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Romeo and Romeo and Juliet and Juliet

This is a small step forward, but it’s an important step.

In a state where attempts to expand gay rights have hit a wall of conservative Republicans, a Senate committee on Tuesday approved a bill to provide a new legal protection for sexually active gay teens.

Under Senate Bill 1316, gay and lesbian teens who engage in consensual sex with each other can escape prosecution on a felony charge of sexual indecency with a child — as long as they are over age 14 and are within three years of each other in age.

Currently, that so-called “Romeo and Juliet” defense is available only to opposite-sex couples.

Romeo and Romeo or Juliet and Juliet, the bill is being called.

Though controversy was mostly absent from Tuesday’s hearing before the Senate Criminal Justice Committee — chaired by the author of the bill — supporters and opponents predicted the fight will come when, and if, the measure comes up for a vote by the full Senate or in the House.

“If a couple meets age and consent criteria, there should be no difference in the law based on their sexual orientation,” said state Sen. John Whitmire, D-Houston, the author.

Whitmire, a conservative Democrat in the more conservative GOP Senate, said he hoped Tuesday’s debate would focus awareness on the unfairness of the current law. While many states allow leeway in prosecuting sexual relationships between teens, supporters of the change in law said Texas is among few with its current “opposite sex” requirement.

[…]

The committee voted 4-1 to recommend its passage to the full Senate. Voting yes were Whitmire and Sens. Juan Hinojosa, D-McAllen; Jose Rodriguez, D-El Paso; and John Carona, R-Dallas. Sen. Charles Schwertner, R-Georgetown, voted no.

The other three committee members, two Republicans and a Democrat, were absent for the vote.

Asked what it would take for the bill to be considered by the full Senate, Whitmire said, “I’ve got to work the Senate. … It took a pretty good-sized step today.”

Indeed it is. Here’s SB 1316. Sens. Dan Patrick and Joan Huffman were the absent Republican members on the Criminal Justice Committee, and it would be interesting to know how they might have voted on this; I’m just guessing, but I think her time as a judge might incline Sen. Huffman to support Sen. Whitmire’s bill. Sen. Whitmire is undoubtedly correct that he has some work to do to get this to the Senate floor, but just getting it out of committee is an accomplishment.

The Star-Telegram has more:

According to the National Conference of State Legislatures, many states have provisions in their sex offender laws allowing some leeway in prosecuting teenage relationships. They range from exceptions to prosecution and sex offender registration to reduced levels of crimes, but Texas appears to be a rarity in its “opposite sex” requirement.

Elizabeth and Michael Hussey, members of the Houston-area chapter of the Parents, Families and Friends of Lesbians and Gays, told the Senate panel their 17-year-old son deserves to be equal under the law.

“I’m a Texas Republican, a disabled veteran who served our country at personal sacrifice, who was doing that for freedoms and liberties of all Americans,” Michael Hussey said. “We don’t want anything special for him, we want equal … I served not for certain groups, certain people, but for everybody.”

Elizabeth Hussey said that just like parents of straight kids, she tries to give her son guidance on sex and other mature issues.

“His sexuality doesn’t change how I parent him, but the law stands in my way sometimes,” she said. “It’s hard as mother to say I want you to wait to have sex until you get married. He can’t get married. The law also says if he does have sex, he could go to prison as a sex offender? I want them to work with me here.”

See, that’s another reason to support marriage equality, so parents can tell their gay kids to wait till they’re married to have sex. Where’s the abstinence education lobby when you really need them?

Anyway. There’s a companion bill in the House, HB3322, filed by Rep. Garnet Coleman, who’s been on this since at least 2009. Despite the step forward by Sen. Whitmire and his bill, I don’t expect anything to come out of this – the troglodyte lobby is still too strong. I’ll be delighted to be wrong about that, and of course it’s always a good time to inform your legislators that you support these bills. Campos has more.

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2 Comments

  1. Joe says:

    Rep. Coleman first tried to address the issue in 2007 during debate on Jessica’s law, HB 8. It was tabled 100-46

    http://www.journals.house.state.tx.us/hjrnl/80r/pdf/80RDAY31FINAL.PDF#page=50

  2. […] Rodriguez’s bill is SB 538. It’s the second pro-equality bill to pass out of this committee so far. As before, the big question is whether either bill can pass […]