Last edited: December 05, 2004

Attorney Promises Appeal of Ruling in Sodomy Case

Kansas City Star, January 31, 2004
1729 Grand Avenue, Kansas City, MO 64108
Fax: 816-234-4926

By John Hanna, Associated Press

TOPEKA, Kan.—Calling the decision a “victory for prejudice and fear,” an attorney is promising to appeal a ruling by Kansas’ second-highest court that the state can punish illegal sex with children more harshly when it involves homosexual acts.

But Attorney General Phill Kline and groups that promote traditional values said Friday that the decision is a good one. Kline also suggested the ruling would prevent a future attack on the state’s ban on same-sex marriages.

The case of Matthew R. Limon had been watched by national advocacy groups because of a U.S. Supreme Court ruling in June that struck down laws criminalizing gay sex between consenting adults—including one in Kansas.

Convicted of sodomy for having sex in 2000 at age 18 with a 14-year-old boy, Limon was sentenced to more than 17 years in prison. Had Limon’s partner been an underage girl, he could have been convicted of unlawful sex under the state’s “Romeo and Juliet” law and sentenced at most to one year and three months in prison.

Judge Henry W. Green Jr. wrote in Friday’s 2-1 decision that legislators could justify differing penalties for homosexual and heterosexual sodomy in plenty of ways, including greater health risks or an attempt to “encourage and preserve the traditional sexual mores of society.”

Tamara Lange, an ACLU attorney representing Limon, said she is likely to ask the Kansas Supreme Court to review the decision, though she has not ruled out asking the Court of Appeals to reconsider.

“This decision is not a victory for morality or a victory for Kansas,” she said. “It’s a victory for prejudice and fear.”

Kline said the decision preserved the Legislature’s right to set criminal sentencing policy. He reiterated his contention that Kansas laws banning same-sex marriages or sex with minors could have been undermined had the ACLU been successful in overturning Limon’s sentence.

Kline also noted that Limon had been convicted twice before of similar crimes. He accused the ACLU of trying to portray Limon as having “a loving teen relationship” when Limon was “convicted for the third time of molesting a child.”

“I think sentencing of a period of years in that instance is appropriate,” Kline said during a news conference.

But Lange dismissed Kline’s arguments as “smoke and mirrors” and said that the sex with the other boy, identified only as M.A.R., was consensual. Both Limon and the other boy lived at a group home for the developmentally disabled near Paola.

“Any rational person who hears about the real facts of this case recognizes it’s completely unfair for Matthew Limon to be sitting in prison for 17 years for having a consensual sexual relationship,” she said.

The ACLU argued that the differing sentences represented unconstitutional discrimination against gays.

The Court of Appeals had rejected Limon’s appeal in 2002, and the Kansas Supreme Court had refused to hear the case, which led the ACLU to ask for a U.S. Supreme Court review. In June, the nation’s highest court returned the case to Kansas, asking the Court of Appeals to reconsider in light of the ruling against anti-sodomy laws.

However, the Kansas appeals panel said that the U.S. Supreme Court decision in June did not apply to sex acts involving children.

The dissenting judge, G. Joseph Pierron Jr., said the state had no rational basis for the differences in sentencing.

“We grant deference, not blind acquiescence, to legislative findings,” Pierron wrote. “This blatantly discriminatory sentencing provision does not live up to American standards of equal justice.”

And Susan Sommer, an attorney for the gay rights group Lambda Legal, which was involved in the case that led to June’s U.S. Supreme Court ruling, said the Kansas ruling “reflects an archaic set of attitudes about homosexuality.”

But Richard Thomas, president and chief counsel for the Thomas More Law Center in Ann Arbor, Mich., which advocates traditional values, said it is appropriate for the Legislature to support heterosexual relationships “that children ultimately will have when they become adults.”

“It is in the state’s interest to safeguard the psychological well-being of minors who may be developing their sexual identities,” he said.

Kansas law makes any sexual activity involving a person under 16 illegal. The 1999 “Romeo and Juliet” law, however, provides lesser penalties for consensual sex when one partner is 19 or under and the other partner’s age is within four years.

As a Kansas House member in 1999, Kline voted against enacting the law, seeing it as too lenient. He said Friday he still does not support it because, “I believe this state needs to engage in all efforts to protect children from sexual exploitation.”

The case is State vs. Matthew R. Limon, No. 85,898.

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