Last edited: February 14, 2005

ACLU Challenges Kansas Teen-Sex Law

Datalounge, November 20, 2001

TOPEKA, Ks.óA law that sentenced an 18-year-old to 17 years in prison for having sex with a teen three years and one month his junior is being challenged by the American Civil Liberties Union, the Topeka Capital-Journal reports. Matthew Limon, a resident of a school for developmentally disabled young people turned 18 in February of 2000. Limon performed a sex act with another boy, identified only as M.A.R., who was one month shy of his 15th birthday. Their encounter was consensual.

A year before they had sex, Kansas legislators enacted what became known as the "Romeo and Juliet" law. Its goal was to separate consensual teen-age sexual relationships from cases in which older adults exploited young children.

It lessened the penalties for unlawful but consensual sexual relations where one person is under 19 and the other person is between 14 and 16, if their ages are less than four years apart. The new law also ended the requirement that people convicted in such cases register with police as sex offenders.

The law, however, applies only when the young sexual partners are of the opposite sex. Had Limon or the near 15-old been female, the maximum sentence would have been one year and three months.

That difference has drawn the involvement of the American Civil Liberties Union and other legal rights organizations into Limonís case. The challenge is thought to be the first of its kind in the nation to reach an appellate court, making it a possible test case for gay civil rights advocates nationwide.

A three-member Kansas Court of Appeals panel plans to hear arguments in Limonís case on Tuesday at the Kansas Judicial Center in Topeka.

The court could issue a decision by early next year.

The civil liberties groups are asking the appellate court to declare that Limonís tougher sentence violates his right to equal protection under the law and to strike down the provision of Kansas law that led to the longer prison term.

"When you read the text of the law, the only conclusion you can come to is that the (Kansas) Legislature thinks gays should be punished more severely than straight people," Tamara Lange, an ACLU attorney, told the newspaper.

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