In Texas it’s against the law for anyone, even other teenagers, to have sexual contact with someone under 17 years of age. But puberty normally hits before then and, well, things have been known to happen. In the past, sexual contact between minors has led to criminal charges, but there is some legal leniency. Under Texas law, if two reported teenage lovers are no more than three years apart in age, the older of the two could get an affirmative defense to the felony of indecency with a child. They call this the Romeo and Juliet defense, but note here; two Romeos or two Juliets need not apply.
El Paso Democrat Representative Mary González is trying to change that. She authored House Bill 71, which would remove the phrase “and of the opposite sex” from the section of the Texas Penal Code that defines an affirmative defense. Other stipulations? The older of the two minors did not use duress, force or threats at the time of sexual contact and did not have a reportable conviction or adjudication for a previous sexual offense.
Rep. González says she’s running with this bill, despite potential pushback from other Texas legislators, with the hope that it doesn’t become political. This bill is not about giving kids a license to have gay sex.
“This piece of legislation is getting rid of an inconsistency in policy but [also] creating equality among all of our teenagers and is not criminalizing teenage relationships,” González says. “I’ve been very careful to really not make this bill about gay sex or about even LGBT identity. This bill is really about, ‘Do we want to criminalize teenage relationships regardless of whether they’re same gender or different gender?’”
Given Texas politics, more conservative legislators might try and turn the bill political anyway. González says she’s confident it will make it to the House floor because she is humanizing the issue. So far, the bill has been reported favorably out of the House Committee on Criminal Jurisprudence and awaits acceptance by the House of Representatives. If the legislation is read on the House floor, it could come up for a full House vote. Last session a similar bill made it out of committee, but did not hit the House floor.
This legislation is harbinger for a larger shift in the Texas lege, González says.
“There is more conversations at least about LGBT identity. I think there are now two openly LGBT members of the legislature on the House floor. There is a humanization of these issues,” she says. “It’s just becoming more normalized in society to have these conversations.”