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Court: Underage sex laws can't be harsher on gays
Saturday, October 22, 2005 Posted: 1208 GMT (2008 HKT)
• Kansas Judicial Branch
TOPEKA, Kansas (AP) -- The Kansas Supreme Court on Friday unanimously struck down a state law that punished underage sex more severely if it involved homosexual acts.
The court said "moral disapproval" of such conduct is not enough to justify the different treatment.
In a case closely watched by national groups on all sides of the gay rights debate, the high court said the law "suggests animus toward teenagers who engage in homosexual sex."
Gay rights groups praised the ruling, while conservatives bitterly complained that the court intruded on the Legislature's authority to make the laws.
The case involved an 18-year-old man, Matthew R. Limon, who was found guilty in 2000 of performing a sex act on a 14-year-old boy and was sentenced to 17 years in prison. Had one of them been a girl, state law would have dictated a maximum sentence of 15 months.
The high court ordered that Limon be resentenced as if the law treated illegal gay sex and illegal straight sex the same. He has already served more than five years.
Limon's lawyer, James Esseks of the American Civil Liberties Union's Lesbian and Gay Rights Project, said: "We are very happy that Matthew will soon be getting out of prison. We are sorry there is no way to make up for the extra four years he spent in prison simply because he is gay."
Kansas Attorney General Phill Kline said in a statement that he does not plan to appeal.
Landmark Texas decision cited
A lower court had ruled that the state could justify the harsher punishment as a way of protecting children's traditional development, fighting disease or strengthening traditional values. But the Supreme Court said the law was too broad to meet those goals.
"The statute inflicts immediate, continuing and real injuries that outrun and belie any legitimate justification that may be claimed for it," Justice Marla Luckert wrote for the court. "Moral disapproval of a group cannot be a legitimate state interest."
The Kansas court also cited the landmark 2003 U.S. Supreme Court decision that struck down a Texas law against gay sodomy.
Limon and the other boy, identified only as M.A.R., lived at a group home for the developmentally disabled. Limon's attorneys described their relationship as consensual and suggested that they were adolescents experimenting with sex.
Kline's office described Limon as a predator with two previous such offenses on his record. Kline contended that such a behavior pattern warranted a tough sentence and that courts should leave sentencing policy to the Legislature.
Kansas law prohibits any sexual activity involving a person under 16.
However, the state's 1999 "Romeo and Juliet" law specifies short prison sentences or probation for sexual activity when an offender is under 19 and the age difference between participants is less than four years -- but only for opposite-sex encounters.
Matt Foreman, executive director of the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force, said the Texas decision and Friday's ruling "shore up the principle that gay people are entitled to equal protection."
"But no one's quite sure how firm that foundation is," he said.
Mathew Staver, attorney for the conservative Orlando, Florida-based Liberty Counsel, said the different treatment was justified by the state's interest in protecting children and families. He also said the court does not have the right to rewrite the statute.
"That's a legislative function," he said. "This is clearly a sign of an activist court system."
Patricia Logue, a senior counsel for the gay rights organization Lambda Legal, said she hopes the decision will slow efforts in various states to enact legislation targeting gays.
"A lot of the reasoning used here by the state comes up again and again," she said. "What the court is saying is, `If you've got a better reason, you would have told us by now. The ones you've come up with are not good enough, and they amount to not liking gay people."'
Battle lines drawn after Kansas gay-sex ruling
Sat Oct 22, 2005 05:34 PM ET
By Ros Krasny
CHICAGO (Reuters) - Gay activists applauded a Kansas Supreme Court decision throwing out a measure that allowed vastly harsher punishment for older teenagers who have consensual sex with underage teens of the same gender.
But conservatives cast the ruling as a victory for supporters of a creeping gay-rights agenda.
"This is legislating from the bench that does not reflect the rule of the citizenry," Jerry Johnston, pastor of the First Family Church in Overland Park, Kansas, told Reuters on Saturday.
The state's top court ruled 6-0 on Friday that different penalties for underage homosexual and heterosexual sex violate the U.S. Constitution's clause barring states from denying people equal protection of the laws.
Matthew Limon has served more than five years of a 17-year prison sentence for criminal sodomy after performing a consensual oral sex act on a 14-year-old boy in 2000, when he was 18.
Had the boy been a girl, Limon would have faced a maximum of just 15 months behind bars under a so-called "Romeo and Juliet" law that allows lighter punishment for teenagers 18 or younger who have sex with 14- and 15-year-olds of the opposite sex.
It is illegal to have sex with anyone under age 16 in Kansas.
A lower court had ruled that the state could justify the harsher punishment for gay sex as a way of fighting disease or strengthening traditional values.
"The only reason for writing into law different penalties for different people is that some people disapprove of gay sex," said Matt Coles, director of the American Civil Liberties Union's Lesbian and Gay Rights Project, which handled Limon's appeal.
Kansas Justice Marla Luckert wrote in the ruling that "moral disapproval of a group cannot be a legitimate governmental interest."
The losing attorney, Kansas Attorney General Phill Kline, said he had no plans to appeal the U.S. Supreme Court.
The court found the Kansas statute violated the U.S. Supreme Court's 2003 ruling, Lawrence vs. Texas, that overturned state sodomy laws making it a crime for gays to have consensual sex in their own bedrooms.
It was the first time the Lawrence case, seen as a milestone for gay rights, has been translated into a favorable ruling in the lower courts.
Kansas Rep. Lance Kinzer, a Republican, said he feared the ruling could be used as a basis to challenge the ban on same-sex marriage passed in Kansas in April.
"If I was a proponent of same-sex marriage in Kansas, I would be extremely encouraged," Kinzer said.
Limon, who suffers from a mild form of mental retardation, was a student at a state residential school for developmentally disabled youth in 2000. That year, he was convicted of having oral sex with a fellow student who was one month short of his 15th birthday.
The ACLU said it hoped to quickly obtain Limon's release.
"He has long since paid his debt to society, and we're thrilled that he will be going home to his family soon," said Lisa Brunner of the ACLU.
The New York Times
October 22, 2005
Kansas Law on Gay Sex by Teenagers Is Overturned
By ADAM LIPTAK
Matthew R. Limon had just turned 18 when he had consensual oral sex with a boy just shy of 15 at a Kansas school in 2000. He was convicted of criminal sodomy and sentenced to 17 years in prison. Had the sex been heterosexual, the maximum penalty would have been 15 months.
Yesterday, the Kansas Supreme Court ruled that the starkly different penalties violated the federal Constitution's equal protection clause. It said the state's "Romeo and Juliet" statute, which limits the punishment that can be imposed on older teenagers who have sex with younger ones, but only if they are of the opposite sex, must also apply to teenagers who engage in homosexual sex.
Mr. Limon will soon be released, his lawyer, James D. Esseks, said. "He's spent an extra four years and five months in jail only because he's gay," said Mr. Esseks, a lawyer at the American Civil Liberties Union.
In 2003, in a decision called Lawrence v. Texas, the United States Supreme Court struck down a Texas law that made gay sex between adults a crime. But a Kansas appeals court ruled last year that the Lawrence decision did not affect Mr. Limon's case, reasoning that it did not involve minors and involved, for the most part, privacy rights rather than equal protection.
The two appeals judges in the majority offered various justifications for the differing punishments.
One judge, Henry W. Green Jr., said the Kansas law promoted "traditional sexual mores," "the traditional sexual development of children," marriage, procreation and parental responsibility. Judge Green added that the law helped protect minors from sexually transmitted diseases, which he said were more generally associated with homosexual than with heterosexual activity.
A second appeals court judge, Tom Malone, endorsed only the final rationale, though he called it tenuous. A dissenting judge, G. Joseph Pierron Jr., wrote that "this blatantly discriminatory sentencing provision does not live up to American standards of equal justice."
In its decision yesterday, the Kansas Supreme Court ruled that the Lawrence case required reversal of the lower-court decision in Kansas. The State Supreme Court rejected all justifications offered by the appeals court. "The moral disapproval of a group cannot be a legitimate state interest," Justice Marla J. Luckert wrote for the unanimous court.
Justice Luckert rejected the argument that homosexual sex is more likely to transmit diseases.
"The Romeo-and-Juliet statute is overinclusive because it increases penalties for sexual relations which are unlikely to transmit H.I.V. and other sexually transmitted diseases," Justice Luckert said, referring to the oral sex in the Limon case and sex involving two women. "Simultaneously," she continued, "the provision is underinclusive because it lowers the penalty for heterosexuals engaging in high-risk activities," notably anal sex.
The fit between the law and the rationales offered for it is so poor, she concluded, that it violates the Constitution's equal protection clause.
In a brief filed in the case, Phill Kline, the Kansas attorney general, said a ruling in Mr. Limon's favor would "begin a toppling of dominoes which is likely to end in the Kansas marriage law on the scrap heap."
"Sexual desires rather than communal and historical sensitivities would then define the marital relationship," Mr. Kline added, "allowing such combinations as three-party marriages, incestuous marriages, child brides and other less-than-desirable couplings."
Mr. Esseks called the argument "patently ridiculous," saying, "Their premise seems to be that gay people have to stay in prison, be made invisible and not have any degree of rights or else gay people will be able to get married."
In a statement issued yesterday, Mr. Kline was more conciliatory. He said that he had voted against the law as a state legislator, "as I did not support the public policy of providing a lengthier sentence for same-sex exploitation as contrasted with opposite-sex exploitation." He added that his office would probably not appeal to the United States Supreme Court.
Bias Ruled in Law On Same-Sex Rape
Court Cites Inequities in Kansas Statute
By Charles Lane
Washington Post Staff Writer
Saturday, October 22, 2005; A03
The Kansas Supreme Court yesterday struck down a state law that penalized same-sex statutory rapes by 18-year-olds much more harshly than heterosexual cases, ruling that the law unconstitutionally discriminated against gays.
In a 6 to 0 opinion, the court said its decision was required by the U.S. Supreme Court's 2003 ruling in Lawrence v. Texas , a landmark victory for gay rights that abolished all state laws criminalizing sodomy between consenting adults.
Yesterday's ruling was the first time after several attempts that gay rights advocates had managed to translate their Lawrence victory into a favorable ruling on another issue in the lower courts. In 2003, the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court established same-sex marriage, based on the state's constitution, not Lawrence.
Under the logic of the Kansas ruling, "not only this law but a lot of other laws that treat gay people badly would fall," said James D. Esseks, a lawyer for the American Civil Liberties Union's Gay and Lesbian Rights Project.
Esseks acknowledged, however, that only one other state, Texas, has a statutory rape law like Kansas's. There are no court challenges pending in Texas. The Kansas ruling would not apply in another state.
Esseks argued the case on behalf of Matthew Limon, who will be released after serving five years of a 17-year sentence under the Kansas law. His sentence would have been 15 months at most if he had been convicted of a heterosexual act.
Kansas Attorney General Phill Kline (R) said the state probably would not appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court, noting that, as a state legislator, he had voted against the disputed provision. In a prepared statement, he said that "it appears the Court has limited its holding," preserving the state's option to criminalize conduct like Limon's even if the sentence must be the same.
Still, at a time when the role of the courts in social issues is at the heart of debate over President Bush's nomination of Harriet Miers to the Supreme Court, the ruling was likely to raise conservative concerns.
"The court acted like a legislature when it attempted to rewrite the statute," said Mathew Staver, president and general counsel of Liberty Counsel, a conservative litigation organization that supported Kansas in the case.
In 2000, when Limon was 18 and a student at a state residential school for mentally disabled youth, he was convicted of having oral sex with a fellow student who was one month shy of his 15th birthday.
There was no claim the sex was coerced. Kansas, like many other states, criminalizes voluntary sex between adults and minors. But in 1999 it enacted a "Romeo and Juliet" law that set a lower penalty for a statutory rape involving an 18-year-old having sex with a 14- or 15-year-old. The lighter punishment applied only to "members of the opposite sex."
Limon appealed to the U.S. Supreme Court, claiming unconstitutional discrimination. The court held the case until it had decided Lawrence , then sent the issue back to the Kansas courts with instructions to review it in light of the new precedent.
Kansas's lower appeals court once again upheld the law, finding it constitutional because it was connected to the state's interests in protecting the normal sexual development of children and preventing sexually transmitted diseases.
But the Kansas Supreme Court said that, under Lawrence , Kansas may not use its laws to express "moral disapproval" of homosexuality -- denying any "rational basis" for the Kansas law's distinction between homosexual and heterosexual acts.
"Neither the court of appeals nor the state cites any scientific research or other evidence justifying the position that homosexual sexual activity is more harmful to minors than adults," the court said.
同性愛犯罪への厳罰判決を無効と判断―カンザス州最高裁 (世界日報 2005/10/22)