American Civil Liberties Union officials said Thursday they will file legal papers with a Kansas appeals court this week in the case of Matthew Limon, a male teenager who was sentenced to 17 years for having consensual sex with another male teenager under a state law that treats gay and straight teens differently. The ACLU is disputing Kansas attorney general Phill Kline's assertions that the state should be able to sentence gay and straight teen offenders differently. "Contrary to Kline's statements to the media, we agree that the state can and should protect teenagers," said Dick Kurtenbach, executive director of the ACLU of Kansas and western Missouri. "All we're asking is that Matthew Limon be treated fairly. It's simply wrong for the state to put a gay teenager in prison for 15 years longer than a straight teenager who commits the same crime."
Matthew Limon is appealing a 206-month prison sentence he received for performing consensual oral sex on another teenager while both were residents at a private school for developmentally disabled youths. Limon would have served a maximum of 15 months in jail under the Kansas law had the other teenager been female. But because the "Romeo and Juliet" law applies only to heterosexuals, Limon was convicted under the much harsher state sodomy law. "This case is not about marriage, bestiality, the ACLU, or any of the other things the attorney general is using as a scare tactic," said Tamara Lange, Limon's attorney from the national ACLU's Lesbian and Gay Rights Project. "It's about whether the state can add a decade and a half to someone's prison sentence because he's bisexual."
According to the ACLU, Kline said the state should be able to punish heterosexual teenagers less harshly under the "Romeo and Juliet" law because doing so would encourage them to marry. Kline also asserted that the law is constitutional because it encourages unmarried teens to get pregnant. In several interviews since filing the state's response two weeks ago, Kline has tried to characterize the ACLU's case as threatening marriage, subverting the state legislature, and encouraging teenagers to have sex. "This case is and has always been about enforcing Matthew Limon's constitutional rights to be treated the same as any other teenager," Kurtenbach said.
In June the U.S. Supreme Court vacated Limon's conviction and instructed the Kansas court of appeals to give it further consideration in light of the high court's historic ruling on sodomy in Lawrence v. Texas. The "Romeo and Juliet" law is similar to the Texas sodomy law because it treats the sexual conduct of lesbian and gay people differently from that of heterosexuals. 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."