Supreme Court Intervenes on Behalf of Kansas Youth Serving 17-Year Prison Sentence Because He's Gay

Affiliate: ACLU of Kansas
June 27, 2003 12:00 am

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WASHINGTON – The U.S. Supreme Court today ordered the case of a young gay man back to a Kansas appeals court for further consideration in light of yesterday’s historic ruling on sexual intimacy. The American Civil Liberties Union represents Matthew Limon in this appeal.

Friday morning’s Court decision vacated Limon’s sentence and instructed the Kansas Court of Appeals to review his case. By doing so, the Court further affirmed yesterday’s mandate that states can no longer penalize the sexual conduct of gay people differently. Limon is serving 16 years more in prison than he would if he were heterosexual because Kansas’ so-called “Romeo and Juliet Law” (which makes sexual relations with a minor a lesser crime if both people are teens) only applies to opposite-sex relations.

“The ‘Romeo and Juliet’ law, similar to the Texas law that was struck down yesterday, treats lesbian and gay people much more harshly than it does straight people who engage in the same behavior, and states can no longer get away with that kind of unequal treatment,” said James Esseks, Litigation Director of the ACLU’s Lesbian and Gay Rights Project. “We hope that this is the first of many wrongs that yesterday’s ruling will correct.”

In addition to the Kansas law, sexual conduct laws that treat young gay people differently from heterosexuals remain on the books in Texas, Alabama, California, Virginia, and Georgia, Esseks said. Yesterday’s Lawrence v. Texas decision calls all such laws into question.

The ACLU has developed “Get Busy, Get Equal,” a public education campaign designed to help lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgendered (LGBT) people take advantage of yesterday’s historic decision to push for equality. To support the campaign, the ACLU has launched a new website, that provides tools for fighting anti-gay discrimination, making schools safer for LGBT youth and getting equality for LGBT relationships.

Limon is appealing a 17-year prison sentence he received because shortly after he turned 18 he performed consensual 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 female of the same age, he would have received 12 months in jail under the “Romeo and Juliet Law,” which applies only to heterosexuals.

“Until yesterday, Matthew Limon was facing the likelihood of being in prison until he was 36 years old, while he would have been released before turning 20 if he were heterosexual,” said Esseks. “This is a great first step toward correcting the massive injustice that has been done to Matthew Limon.”

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 petition for Supreme Court review of the Limon case is online at /node/36223

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