A former pastor and Southern Baptist Convention leader arrested a year ago in a gay-sex sting operation shouldn’t be punished, because the act he proposed to an undercover police officer in Oklahoma City isn’t against the law, his attorney said in a court document.
An attorney for Lonnie Latham, 61, former pastor of South Tulsa Baptist Church who was a member of the SBC Executive Committee at the time of his arrest in January 2006, filed a motion asking the misdemeanor charge against his client be dismissed.
The attorney, Mack Martin, argued that the lewdness statute under which Latham was charged is unconstitutional, based on a 2003 U.S. Supreme Court ruling that states cannot make it a crime for consenting adults to engage in homosexual acts.
“If it’s not illegal to engage in that conduct, then it shouldn’t be illegal to talk about it,” Martin said in a trial before a judge Thursday, according to the Tulsa World. Latham earlier waived his right to a jury trial. Oklahoma County District Court Judge Roma M. McElwee is expected to rule in about two weeks.
Former director of missions of Tulsa Metro Baptist Association, Latham was one of three men arrested Jan. 3, 2006, near an Oklahoma City hotel reputed to be frequented by homosexuals. Two of the men were charged with solicitation for prostitution, but, police said, Latham did not offer to pay for sex, only to engage in a specific act.
At the time Latham said he did nothing wrong and was set up by police. He said he was in the area for a “prayer ministry.” Latham later resigned as pastor of his church, as well as from service as recording secretary of the Baptist General Convention of Oklahoma and as a member of the SBC Executive Committee.
The American Civil Liberties Union filed a friend-of-the-court brief asking that Latham’s case be dismissed.
“The Supreme Court has made it crystal clear that, when it comes to their sex lives, consenting adults are free to do whatever they please in private,” Joann Bell, Executive Director of the ACLU of Oklahoma, said in a statement. “According to the police report, Rev. Latham did nothing more than invite another man to his hotel room for consensual sex. It is not a crime merely to invite someone to have completely lawful sex. If it were otherwise, every bar in the state may as well shut its doors.”
Latham’s lawyer at one point termed the case “a major First Amendment issue.”
If convicted, Latham could face up to a year in jail and a $2,500 fine. While the Associated Press reported that Latham declined to talk to reporters at his trial, the Tulsa World said Latham told a reporter, “I’m doing much better.” World religion writer said Latham appeared “relaxed” and chatted with his wife before the hearing and took a few minutes to read the Bible.
Bob Allen is managing editor of EthicsDaily.com.