Let’s Talk About Romeo and Juliet

Liberty-minded people like equal protection of the law applied regardless of other factors, so when the state legislature comes up with exemptions, we pay attention. For example, about 30 years ago the state passed an exemption to the statutory rape law that says it is a legal defense to laws against statutory rape if the person who would otherwise be facing charges is within three years of age as the minor.

This is known as the Romeo and Juliette exemption. Named after the young lovers in William Shakespeare’s most famous play, the exception prevents serious criminal charges against teenagers who engage in consensual sex with others close to their own age.

In Texas, the law applies to opposite sex couples where one is a minor who 14, 15, 16, or 17, and the other is three or fewer years older than the minor. Okay. Good exception. It ensures that angry parents of young couples can’t have the 15 year old charged with rape of the 14 year old when they were in it together. (None of this applies if it is forced.)

But here’s the problem, why is this only opposite sex couples? If Bobby is a 15 year old boy and experiencing sex with a willing and equally curious Joe who is 14, why is the offense greater than if Bobbie is a girl? They both fall into the age exception. They are both caught in a consensual act.

Statutory rape laws, and rape laws in general, can be filled with difficult emotional overtones. Rape is a very personal crime, and it can be devastating to the victim when he/she is questioned in a court room full of people. One would hope that no parent wants to subject their child to cross examination when the acts were mutually agreed upon – and Mom and Dad are (probably) not going to be pleased about the sex regardless of the genders involved.

The parents of gay teens have asked Texas lawmakers to give their children the same legal protection as heterosexuals when it comes to prosecuting sex crimes. Some people, especially some other Republicans, said including all teens in the exemption extends gay rights.

The Log Cabin Republicans say “so what if it does?” These are kids. The exemption to the law was passed because they are kids, and kids have been known to do dumb things. When they are doing dumb things with each other consensually, we don’t really think it matters whether they are being heterosexually or homosexually dumb. Changing this statute helps provide more equal protection under the law and prevents the young teenaged boy from being branded a sexual predator forever.

Please, when this comes up in Austin during the 84th session, let your representative or senator know that you support it because you support equal protection under the law.

About Jeff LeBlanc 70 Articles
Chairman, Republican Liberty Caucus of Texas