A teen writes:
"I'm a lesbian fifteen-year-old that recently started dating someone. This girl, Marie, had been flirting and being a really great person towards me for a long time, so when she asked me out on a date, I said yes. We've been together for a while now, and love each other very much. There is only one issue; Marie's eighteen.
How legal is our relationship? We haven't kissed or done anything sexual; only shown love through words and cuddling, but I still wonder, since I'm a minor and she's technically an adult. I looked up the laws in my state, and our age of consent is 18, but exceptions are made if it's someone under twenty-three with someone that is sixteen or seventeen. But until I have my birthday, what's legal, and what isn't? Does the United States consider kissing to be sexual? Or is it only if you kiss a certain way?
I'm quite confused, as I love someone, but I don't even know if it's legal to love them. Does anyone have any helpful information?"
This is a really good question. From what you describe, as long as you wait to do anything more than kiss until you are sixteen, you are probably not breaking any laws. But really, only someone with legal training or knowledge of your states laws and the enforcement of them can confirm that.
These laws are often referred to as age-of-consent laws and breaking them can find an older partner charged with the crime of statutory rape.
Statutory rape refers to sex between someone over the age of consent (usually between 16 and 18) and someone under the age of consent. The older person can be charged with a crime even if the younger person says they wanted to have sex. A lot of people don't think that statutory rape laws are ever enforced, but they are wrong. There are people, (even some still in their teens) sitting in jail around the country for having sex with their underage partners!
These laws are intended to keep teens safe from predatory adults. But those laws can also hurt teens who are in consensual relationships with partners who are only a few years older.
The Rutgers University teen sexuality website, SexEtc.org has a feature called a href="http://sexetc.org/action-center/sex-in-the-states/">Sex in the States, which can help teens learn the details about the laws in their own states.
But some of the laws are even less clear when the issue is a relationship between a same sex couple. Some states have no laws, some are stricter about same sex relationships than they are about opposite sex relationships, others have close-in-age exceptions like the ones you describe. Sometimes these include same sex relationships and other times they don't.
Lot of grown-ups date people ten years older and it is considered perfectly normal. But things are different for teens, both emotionally and legally. So make sure you that if you date older, doing so is really what's best for you.