Published March 15, 2007
OKLAHOMA CITY, Okla. (RNS)— A former member of the Southern Baptist Convention Executive Committee was found not guilty on March 7 of offering to engage in a lewd act.
Lonnie Latham, then 60 and pastor of South Tulsa Baptist Church, was arrested Jan. 3, 2006, after allegedly inviting a male undercover Oklahoma City police officer to his hotel room for sex. He pleaded not guilty in February, 2006.
Oklahoma County Special Judge Roma M. McElwee ruled on the case but did not address a key part of the defense argument – whether or not the law Latham was charged under is unconstitutional.
Latham’s attorney, Mack Martin, had argued that his client was charged under a lewdness statute that should be unconstitutional because the U.S. Supreme Court in 2003 legalized consensual sex between two adult males. If the conduct is not illegal, he argued, then talking about it should not be illegal.
Martin said Latham was “ecstatic” when he learned of the verdict Wednesday afternoon.
The case drew the attention of the American Civil Liberties Union, which filed a friend of the court brief in Latham’s defense, and of national gay rights organizations, which maintained that inviting someone to a hotel room for sex was not a crime.
If convicted, Latham could have faced a year in jail, a $2,500 fine and 40 to 80 hours of community service.
As a spokesman for Southern Baptists, Latham often defended the church’s opposition to same-sex relations. After his arrest he resigned from the SBC Executive Committee, the Board of Directors of the Baptist General Convention of Oklahoma, and his church pulpit.
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