Constitutional Law

Lawyer's proposed gay death penalty is 'reprehensible,' says state AG in bid to stop ballot process

  • Print.


Image from Shutterstock.

California Attorney General Kamala Harris says a lawyer’s proposed anti-gay ballot measure is “utterly reprehensible” and “patently unconstitutional,” and she doesn’t want to take steps to prepare the measure for the initiative process.

Harris is asking a court in Sacramento to issue a declaratory judgment relieving her of the duty to write a title and summary for the measure, a step she is required to take before signatures can be gathered to place the initiative on the ballot, report UT-San Diego, National Public Radio, the New York Times, the Recorder (sub. req.) and a press release.

The measure (PDF), proposed by lawyer Matt McLaughlin of Huntington Beach, would impose the death penalty by “bullets to the head” for gay sodomy.

McLaughlin calls his measure the Sodomite Suppression Act, the San Diego Gay and Lesbian News reported earlier this month.

The proposal provides that “any person who willingly touches another person of the same gender for purposes of sexual gratification be put to death by bullets to the head or by any other convenient method.”

The proposed measure would also impose a $1 million fine or prison for “sodomistic propaganda” and would ban gays from public office. The proposal says “it is better that offenders should die rather than that all of us should be killed by God’s just wrath against us for the folly of tolerating-wickedness in our midst.”

The State Bar of California lists two lawyers named Matthew McLaughlin, but only one lists an address in Huntington Beach. The other, admitted to the bar in December, practices law in San Diego. He told the ABA Journal that, as far as he knows, he is no relation to the other Matt McLaughlin. “I certainly hope I’m not,” the San Diego McLaughlin said. “I have no idea why he would propose such a crazy law.”

The ABA Journal sought comment from McLaughlin of Huntington Beach earlier this month, and got a message that the mailbox was full. Other publications have been unable to reach him for comment.

The measure has spurred calls to make it more difficult to place initiatives on the ballot. University of California at Davis law professor Vikram Amar spoke with NPR about the proposals.

One idea is to raise the filing fee from the current $200; if the amount is too high, Amar said, it would send “a message about direct democracy requiring money.” Another possibility, Amar said, is to give the attorney general “unilateral power to screen out blatantly illegal measures.” He sees problems, however, with giving the attorney general the authority to “mak[e] that gate keeping call at the front end.”

Others have called for the disbarment of McLaughlin, the Recorder (sub. req.) reports in a prior article. California State Bar spokeswoman Laura Ernde has said the bar “is aware of the matter and the Office of Chief Trial Counsel is taking it seriously.”

But two legal ethics experts told the Recorder it may not be possible to pursue ethics charges because state disciplinary rules bar discriminatory conduct in a law practice, but do not address discriminatory speech outside of a lawyer’s work.

McLaughlin appears to be elusive. According to Wonkette, he is “extremely invisible online.”

Wonkette looked up the Huntington Beach address and found it is for a Mail Box Express store. The blog was unable to find any legal cases involving McLaughlin, but did find a story about a lawyer named Matt McLaughlin, with the same Huntington Beach address, who submitted an initiative in 2004 to give Bibles to public school children.

The measure never appeared on the ballot because McLaughlin did not submit the required signatures, according to the Recorder.

Give us feedback, share a story tip or update, or report an error.