What is the Age of Consent?
The age of consent is the age that a person can legally agree to have sex. A person over the age of consent who has sex with someone under the age of consent can be charged with a crime (often called statutory rape) for having sex with the younger person, even if the younger person agreed to have sex.
Gay Teens & the Age of Consent
These laws impact both gay and straight teens. One of the most well-known gay teens to be affected was an 18-year-old Kansas boy named Matthew Limon. Limon received received a 17 year sentence for having sex with a younger boy. Due to inequities in the law, this sentence was far longer than it would have been had Limon has sex with an underage girl.
Ultimately, after the famous Lawrence vs. Texas case that decriminalized sodomy, Kansas and other states struck down laws that punished underage sex more severely if it involved "homosexual acts." Nevertheless, age of consent laws still exist and are still enforced.
Tough to Understand
These laws are often confusing for teens. The guide to young adults explains a few reasons why:
"What's permissible in some states means jail time in others, and enforcement is unpredictable. And the age of consent varies considerably from state to state. In Alaska, for example, it's 16. In Louisiana, it's 17. And in Georgia, where a 17-year-old was sentenced to 10 years in prison for having consensual oral sex with a 15-year-old, the age of consent is 18."
"Romeo and Juliet" Laws
Some states have decided that the way that age of consent laws, and statutory rape charges, are enforced and enacted doesn't always make sense. As a result, 12 currently have so-called "close-in-age," or "Romeo and Juliet" laws. These laws ensure a difference in charges and punishment for sex between similar-aged teens, even if one is legally an adult. Though charges may still come under Romeo and Juliet statutes, they tend to result in shorter terms of incarceration, less post-release supervision, and rarely require sex offender registration, (which a 2009 study conduced by the National Institute of Justice and Rutgers University found had not actually made a measurable difference in deterring future sex crimes against children).
Rationale Vs. Reality
Ultimately, age of consent laws are designed to protect teens from adult predators. But sometimes they can end up punishing kids in non-coercive situations. So to avoid finding yourself in that position, it is really important for gay teens, who already face hurdles when it comes to their sexuality, to know the law and how it affects them. The website, SexEtc.org has a feature called "Sex in the States" which can help teens learn about their specific state laws.