Kansas ruling: Underage gay sex cannot be penalized more harshly than underage straight sex

Kansas can no longer punish illegal underage sex more harshly if it involves homosexual conduct, the state's highest court ruled Friday in a case watched by national groups on both sides of the gay rights debate.

BY admin

October 21 2005 11:00 PM ET

Kansas can no
longer punish illegal sex between young adults and teenage
minors more harshly if it involves homosexual conduct,
the state's highest court ruled Friday in a case
watched by national groups on both sides of the gay
rights debate. The unanimous decision by the Kansas
supreme court represents a victory for convicted sex
offender Matthew R. Limon. In 2000 he was sentenced to
17 years and two months in prison because, at age 18,
he performed a sex act on a 14-year-old boy. Had he
performed the same act on a girl, Limon would have
faced only 15 months behind bars.
The high court ordered that Limon be resentenced
as if the law treated underage gay sex and underage
straight sex the same, and it struck language from the
law that resulted in the unequal treatment.
A lower court had said the state could justify
the harsher punishment as protecting children's
traditional development, fighting disease, or
strengthening traditional values.
Writing for the high court, Justice Marla
Luckert said the Kansas law specifying harsher
treatment for underage gay sex is 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," Luckert
wrote. "Moral disapproval of a group cannot be a
legitimate state interest."
James Esseks, of the American Civil Liberties
Union's Gay and Lesbian Rights Project, who
represented Limon before the high court, was pleased
with the ruling. "This law was specifically designed to
treat gay kids worse, and what this decision says is,
that is not a legitimate state interest," Esseks 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," he said.
Limon has been held at the state's
medium-security prison at Ellsworth. National health
groups and the National Association of Social Workers
filed legal arguments supporting Limon's position. A
conservative law group, Orlando, Fla.–based
Liberty Counsel, helped prepare written arguments from
25 legislators in support of the original law.
Both Limon and the other boy, identified only as
M.A.R. in court documents, lived at a Paola,
Kan., group home for the developmentally
disabled. In court an official described M.A.R. as mildly
mentally retarded and Limon as functioning at a slightly
higher level but not as an 18-year-old. Limon's
attorneys described the relationship with the younger
boy as consensual and suggested that they were adolescents
experimenting with sex.

Kansas attorney
general Phill Kline's office has repeatedly described
Limon as a predator, noting he had two similar previous
offenses on his criminal record. Kline contended that
such a pattern of behavior warranted a tough sentence
and that courts should leave sentencing policy to the legislature.

Kline's office
had no immediate comment on the ruling.
Kansas law makes any sexual activity involving a
person under 16 illegal, regardless of the context.
But Limon's attorneys note that had his victim been
female, the state's 1999 "Romeo and Juliet" law would have
applied. It establishes lesser penalties for underage sex
when the partners' ages are within four years of each
other and one partner is under 19—and
specifically applies only when the partners are of the
opposite sex.
In Friday's decision, the court said the "Romeo
and Juliet" law was intended to allow less harsh
treatment of consensual teenage relationships. Luckert
wrote that purpose wouldn't be harmed by striking the
language limiting the law to only opposite-sex partners. She
wrote that the language "suggests animus toward
teenagers who engage in homosexual sex."
The Kansas court of appeals rejected Limon's
appeal in 2002. The next year, the U.S. Supreme Court
struck down a Texas law criminalizing gay sex and
returned Limon's case to the state courts. But in a 2-1
decision in January 2004, the Kansas court of appeals
noted the U.S. Supreme Court case involved consenting
adults and sided with the state again. Limon then
appealed to the Kansas supreme court. (AP)

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