Defying U.S. Supreme Court, Kansas Court Upholds 17-Year Prison Sentence of Bisexual Teenager

Affiliate: ACLU of Kansas
January 30, 2004 12:00 am

ACLU Affiliate
ACLU of Kansas
Media Contact
125 Broad Street
18th Floor
New York, NY 10004
United States


TOPEKA, KS -- The American Civil Liberties Union today deplored a Kansas appeals court ruling that it is constitutional to give a bisexual teenager a sentence 13 times longer than a straight teenager would receive for the same crime.

"The court's opinion in this case defies comprehension, and we intend to seek an appeal," said Dick Kurtenbach, Executive Director of the ACLU of Kansas and Western Missouri. "The U.S. Supreme Court ordered Kansas to reconsider this case in light of its holding last summer that the government can't have a different set of rules for gay people than it does for straight people. But the Kansas court's opinion is written as if Lawrence v. Texas, which struck down same-sex-only sodomy laws, had never even happened."

The two-to-one decision from the Kansas Court of Appeals today upholds the state's "Romeo and Juliet" law, which gives much lighter sentences to heterosexual teenagers who have sex with younger teens, but specifically excludes gay teenagers. In its decision, the Court gave three explanations for sentencing gays so much more severely: that doing so will reduce the spread of sexually transmitted diseases, that doing so encourages "traditional sexual mores," and that doing so promotes procreation and marriage.

"The Court's reasons for approving this law are absurd," said Tamara Lange, Limon's attorney from the ACLU's Lesbian and Gay Rights Project. "All young people should be entitled to protection from sexually transmitted diseases, and punishing gay kids more harshly 'protects' no one. The Supreme Court made it very clear that 'traditional sexual mores' are no longer a legitimate rationale for discriminating against gay people. To suggest that the state should give straight men a lighter sentence to encourage them to marry the 14- and 15-year-old girls they impregnate and support the children that result from their crimes is incomprehensible."

Matthew Limon is currently serving 17 years in prison, instead of the 13 to 15 months he would have faced if he were heterosexual. 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, like the overturned Texas sodomy law, 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."

Selected Quotes from Justice Henry W. Green, Jr.'s Opinion:

Heterosexual men who have sex with 14- and 15-year-old girls deserve a lighter sentence to encourage procreation:

"Throughout history, governments have extolled the virtues of procreation as a way to furnish new workers, soldiers, and other useful members of society. The survival of society requires a continuous replenishment of its members."

Heterosexual men who have sex with 14- and 15- year-old girls deserve a lighter sentence to encourage the young men to marry the girls they have slept with and provide for their potential offspring:

"When a child is born from a relationship between a minor and a young adult, the minor is often unable to financially support the newborn child. In many cases, the minor is still a dependent. As a result, the financial burden to support the newborn child properly falls to the young adult. Obviously, the young adult cannot furnish adequate financial support for the newborn child while he or she is incarcerated. The legislature could well have concluded that incarcerating the young adult parent for a long period would be counterproductive to the requirement that a parent has a duty to provide support to his or her minor child? On the other hand, same-sex relationships do not generally lead to unwanted pregnancies. As a result, the need to release the same-sex offender from incarceration is absent."

From Justice Joseph Pierron, Jr.'s Dissent:

"Carved in stone above the pillars in front of the United States Supreme Court building are the words 'Equal Justice Under Law.' In bronze letters on the north interior wall of the Kansas Judicial Center we read 'Within These Walls The Balance Of Justice Weighs Equal.' There are reasons why we remind ourselves so graphically of the importance of equal justice. Persons in power and authority have historically been tempted to discriminate against people they do not like or understand. If these personal and political dislikes become law and exceed the bounds of constitutionality, the courts have been given the duty to be the final protectors of our ideal of equality under the law. This blatantly discriminatory sentencing provision does not live up to American standards of equal justice."

A backgrounder on the case is available online at: /LesbianGayRights/LesbianGayRights.cfm?ID=14476&c=41

The Kansas Court of Appeals decision can be read in its entirety at:

More information on how the U.S. Supreme Court sent this case back to the Kansas Court of Appeals can be read here: /node/14204

Sign up to be the first to hear about how to take action.

Learn More About the Issues in This Press Release