Alabama politician would be sex offender under "crimes against nature" law in Mississippi
After a woman said he likes a "finger up his ass," Secretary of State John Merrill decided against a Senate run -- but hasn't resigned.
Homophobia keeps sodomy laws on the books — even though they were banned by the Supreme Court in 2003
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In an example of the absurdity of sodomy laws that are still on the books in some states — used to intimidate and police LGBTQ people, some of whom are actually on sex offender registries for consensual sex decades ago — the Alabama Secretary of State, a heterosexual married man, will have violated Mississippi’s “crimes against nature” law if he travels to his neighboring state.
John Merrill last week vehemently denied allegations by a right-wing website that he’d had an extramarital affair with a woman — only to admit it hours later after being confronted by a reporter with a tape of the woman saying he liked to have a “finger up his ass,” among other sexual activities she was happy to elaborate on. Merrill then announced he’d not run for the open U.S. Senate seat in Alabama (Senator Richard Shelby decided not to run for re-election) in 2022.
But Merrill is still Secretary of State, even after having been exposed of gross hypocrisy — he had said in 2019 our culture was too focused on “homosexual activities” and “wife swapping” — and, according to Christian nationalists who’d like to re-criminalize sodomy (who certainly are abundant in Alabama), after having engaged in an act that should ostensibly send him to prison. And in Mississippi and a couple of other states, the “crimes against nature” law is still on the books.
In fact, in the same week that Merrill was revealed to have been a devotee of anal penetration, a 45-year-old gay man in Butte, Montana was waiting for a ruling by a judge that will determine whether or not he gets removed from a sex offender registry for having been convicted under Idaho’s “crimes against nature” law almost 20 years ago. The United States Supreme Court ruled sodomy laws unconstitutional in 2003 — laws that ruined the lives of many queer people — but anti-LGBTQ politicians have fought in many states against removing obsolete statutes, just to send a hateful message.
Randall Menges was convicted under Idaho’s sodomy ban in 1994 when he lived there, and tragically spent seven years in prison for having consensual sex at the age of 18. (He was arrested when police said he had sex with two 16-year-olds, though the state, like most others, rarely prosecutes 18-year-olds who have sex with other teens a year or two younger than them.) Even after the Supreme Court’s 2003 ruling, Menges remained on Idaho’s sex offender registry, as the Idaho law against anal and oral sex is still in existences today.
Menges moved to Montana, which, like most other states over the years, removed its sodomy statute. But Montana has a law that requires anyone on a sex offender registry in another state — for any reason — to be put on Montana’s sex offender registry. State officials argued they couldn’t do anything about it without a court ruling. So Menges filed a lawsuit.
I interviewed Matt Strugar, Menges’ attorney, on my SiriusXM show last week. Strugar has been fighting to overturn these laws for many years and has had victories — as well as partial victories — in a number of states. Currently, he’s still challenging Idaho’s law, along with the ACLU, as well as Mississippi’s law. As NBC reported, South Carolina, Idaho and Mississippi still have such laws on the books and have required those convicted to register as sex offenders.
Strugar told me that Menges’s conviction as well as subsequently being on the sex offender registries has been devastating for him. It’s affected his ability to get or secure jobs and find housing, as his name and photo are on these registries, and he’s been mocked and targeted with violence.
“It has potentially ruined his life,” Strugar said. “He was homeless for a while, living in a shelter in Idaho. Some people looked him up on the registry. Some other residents at the shelter — he’s kind of a cowboy — they started calling him ‘Brokeback Mountain,’ and ‘faggot.’ He had to leave the shelter because he was scared for his safety.”
When new people Menges comes to know find out he’s on the registry, they often cut off ties, Strugar said;
And other relationships he’s had in his life, when people have learned that he’s a sex offender, and when he explains what the situation is, they just don’t believe him. They say, “ You don’t have to register for that in the America in 2021.” They think he must be a child molester.
Menges awaits a decision from a federal judge in Montana who said he’d have a ruling “soon.” Even if he is victorious, however, he’ll be removed from Montana’s registry but not Idaho’s, as this case is only about whether or not Montana can include him on the registry. The crimes against nature laws in the three remaining states, including Mississippi, will still be place as challenges continue.
And that’s what got me to thinking about Alabama Attorney General John Merrill, who’s now basically admitted he has engaged in a “crime against nature” under his neighboring state’s law. Would he be charged if he travels there? It’s highly doubtful, and why we see that these laws are used solely to intimidate gay men.
If Christian nationalists, who certainly dominate Alabama’s Republican Party, were consistent, they’d treat an extramarital affair as equivalent to homosexuality — each is equally a “sin,” after all — and certainly they’d treat all anal penetration for sexual gratification the same, as an abominable “crime against nature.”
But while religious extremist groups like the Alliance Defending Freedom —- founded by 30 leaders of the Christian right — have supported the re-criminalization of sex between consenting LGBTQ adults in the U.S., they don’t seem to think anal sex among heterosexuals — and that includes a woman penetrating a man with her fingers — is a problem, let alone that it should be criminalized.
If they did, Merrill — who’s been called upon to resign by Democratic leaders in Alabama but not by Republican leaders, whom he just met with, according to his own Twitter feed — would have resigned as Alabama Secretary of State already.