'Romeo & Juliet Law' Gives Gay Teen 16 Years More In Prison than Heterosexual Would Serve

Affiliate: ACLU of Kansas
September 28, 2001 12:00 am

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‘Romeo & Juliet Law’ Gives Gay Teen 16 Years More In Prison than Heterosexual Would Serve

KANSAS CITY, KS – Kansas’ so-called “”Romeo and Juliet Law”” is unconstitutional because it gives lesbian and gay youth much higher prison sentences than straight youth who engage in the same behavior, the American Civil Liberties Union said in an appeal brief filed today.

Matthew Limon is appealing a 17-year prison sentence he received because shortly after he turned 18, he performed oral sex on a nearly-15-year-old male at a residential school for developmentally disabled youth where they both lived in Miami County, Kansas. If he had instead performed oral sex on a 14-year-old female, he would have received 12 months in jail under the “”Romeo and Juliet Law,”” which applies only to heterosexuals.

“”The only difference between a year in jail and 17 years is whether or not you’re gay,”” said Matt Coles, Director of the ACLU Lesbian & Gay Rights Project, which filed a friend-of-the-court brief on Limon’s behalf. “”Matt Limon will be 36 years old by the time he’s released, having spent half of his life in prison – while a heterosexual person would have been released before turning 19.””

Under the 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 4 years, if there are no third parties involved, and if the two teenagers “”are members of the opposite sex.””

The Equal Protection clause of the U.S. Constitution forbids singling out a group of people – based on bigotry toward that group – and punishing them more severely for the same behavior. “”That’s exactly what Kansas is doing,”” Coles said.

Today’s appeal doesn’t seek to change age-of-consent laws or reduce sentences for sexual contact with minors, the ACLU said.

“”The question here isn’t whether young adults should be punished for unlawful sexual activity. It’s whether gay people should be punished more severely than straight people for committing the same crime,”” Coles said. “”We don’t think the Constitution allows that, and we hope this court won’t, either.””

The case is State of Kansas v. Matthew R Limon in the Court of Appeals of the State of Kansas, in Kansas City, number 00-85898-A. Limon is represented by a court-appointed public defender.

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