Wednesday, March 07, 2007

Garnet Coleman on the First GLBT Vote of the Session

With all the excitement of the endorsment meeting, I neglected to get this important message from Garnet Coleman up on the blog. Sign up to receive Representative Coleman's GLBT e-mail alerts here.

Dear Friend,

Equal protection under the law is one of the most fundamental aspects of our system of government. All persons should be entitled to the same treatment before the law, regardless of who they are. But unfortunately, under current law Texas law, GLBT teens can receive stricter sentences than heterosexual teens (for the same crime). I filed an amendment yesterday (the first GLBT-related vote of the session) to correct that injustice, and while I was not successful, you can be sure I will continue work on this issue throughout the session.

Background on Texas' "Romeo and Juliet" law

Yesterday the House debated amendments to H.B. 8 (often known as "Jessica's Law"), which changed in part Texas' statute dealing with statutory rape. The law is strict and provides for up to twenty years in prison for engaging in "sexual conduct" with a child under seventeen years of age. But it also provides for an affirmative defense for cases in which the offender was within three years of age of the victim - these are cases where an eighteen year old high school senior might be dating a sixteen year old sophmore. You may have heard of this referred to as the "Romeo and Juliet" law, but Texas is unique in that it only applies when the two persons are of the opposite sex. In other words, Texas law treats heterosexual teen relationships like regular high school romance, but treats GLBT teen relationships like criminal pedophilia.

This section of the law isn't just some piece of obscure legal jargon - it has real effect. Until recently, Kansas had a law just like Texas; in 2000, Matthew Limon, an eighteen year old Kansas teen, was sentenced to seventeen years in prison for having sex with another male just shy of his fifteenth birthday. That sentence was thirteen times more severe than a heterosexual teen would have received for the same crime; not only that, Limon was required to register as a sex-offender after being released from prison. Ultimately, his conviction was vacated by the U.S. Supreme Court, and the Kansas Supreme Court overturned the law which excludes GLBT teens from the "Romeo and Juliet" clause as a violation of the Equal Protection clause of the U.S. Constitution.

My amendment

Since the Kansas law was overturned, Texas is the only state to create different penalties for GLBT "Romeo and Juliet" teen relationships. That's why yesterday I filed an amendment to strike that discriminatory language from the law. Unfortunately, the amendment was killed on a vote of 100-46. But you can be sure that I will continue to work for the principle of equal protection under the law throughout the session on this and other GLBT related issues.

If you have any questions or concerns, please reply to this e-mail or call our capitol office at 512-463-0524; I would love to hear from you. I also hope you'll forward this e-mail to a friend, and if you've received this e-mail as a forward, click here to sign up for our e-mail alerts.



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