ACLU Fires Back at Kansas Attorney General in Latest Round over 17-Year Prison Sentence of Bisexual Teenager

Affiliate: ACLU of Kansas
October 2, 2003 12:00 am

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TOPEKA, KS – Responding to the state’s support of a 17-year prison sentence in the case of a bisexual teenager who had consensual oral sex with another male teenager, the American Civil Liberties Union will file legal papers with a state appeals court tomorrow. The ACLU disputes Kansas Attorney General Phill Kline’s assertions that the state should be able to sentence gay and straight teen offenders differently.

“Contrary to Kline’s statements to the media, we agree that the state can and should protect teenagers. All we’re asking is that Matthew Limon be treated fairly,” said Dick Kurtenbach, Executive Director of the ACLU of Kansas and Western Missouri. “It’s simply wrong for the state to put a gay teenager in prison for 15 years longer than a straight teenager who commits the same crime.”

Matthew Limon is appealing a 206-month prison sentence he received shortly after turning 18 because while he was a resident at a private school for developmentally disabled youth he performed consensual oral sex on another teenager. Limon would have served a maximum of 15 months in jail under the Kansas law had the other teenager been female. But because the “Romeo and Juliet” law applies only to heterosexuals, Limon was convicted under the much harsher state sodomy law.

“This case is not about marriage, bestiality, the ACLU, or any of the other things the Attorney General is using as a scare tactic,” said Tamara Lange, Limon’s attorney from the national ACLU’s Lesbian and Gay Rights Project. “It’s about whether the state can add a decade and a half to someone’s prison sentence because he’s bisexual.”

In the state’s brief to the court, Kline takes several nonsensical positions, among them that the state should be able to punish heterosexual teenagers less harshly under the “Romeo and Juliet” law because doing so would encourage them to marry. Kline also asserts that the law is constitutional because it encourages unmarried teens to get pregnant.

“It’s pathetic that the state is willing to sacrifice 15 years of a developmentally disabled boy’s life so it can draw a line in the sand over policy arguments that don’t even have anything to do with this case,” said Kurtenbach. In several interviews since filing the state’s response two weeks ago, Kansas Attorney General Phill Kline has tried to characterize the ACLU’s case as threatening marriage, subverting the state legislature, and encouraging teenagers to have sex. Kurtenbach added, “This case is and has always been about enforcing Matthew Limon’s constitutional rights to be treated the same as any other teenager.”

Limon is serving 17 years in prison, instead of the 13 to 15 months he would have faced if he were heterosexual with the same prior record. The Kansas law makes sexual relations with a minor a lesser crime if both people are teens, but it only applies to opposite-sex relations. In June, the U.S. Supreme Court vacated Limon’s conviction and instructed the Kansas Court of Appeals to give it further consideration in light of the historic ruling on sexual intimacy in Lawrence v. Texas. The “Romeo and Juliet” law is similar to the Texas sodomy law because it treats the sexual conduct of lesbian and gay people differently.

Under the Kansas law, consensual oral sex between two teens is a lesser crime if the younger teenager is 14 to 16 years old, if the older teenager is under 19, if the age difference is less than four years, if there are no third parties involved, and if the two teenagers “are members of the opposite sex.”

The ACLU’s brief can be viewed online at /node/36261.

The state’s brief can be viewed online at /cpredirect/12354.

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