SACRAMENTO, Calif. — Senator Scott Wiener’s (D-San Francisco) Senate Bill 145 — co-sponsored by Equality California — which ends blatant discrimination against LGBTQ+ youth regarding California’s sex offender registry, passed both houses of the State Legislature. It now heads to Governor Newsom’s desk.
SB 145 is co-sponsored by the Los Angeles County District Attorney’s Office and Equality California, and is supported by both law enforcement and civil rights advocates including the the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), the Anti-Defamation League (ADL), the California Public Defenders Association, Children Now, the California Coalition Against Sexual Assault (CALCASA), Lambda Legal, and the National Center for Lesbian Rights.
Currently, for voluntary yet illegal sexual relations between a teenager age 14 to 17 and a partner within 10 years of age, “sexual intercourse” (i.e., vaginal intercourse) does not mandate that the offender to go onto the sex offender registry; rather, the judge has discretion to decide, based on the facts of the case, whether sex offender registration is warranted or unwarranted. By contrast, for all other forms of intercourse — specifically, oral and anal intercourse — sex offender registration is mandated under all situations, with no judicial discretion.
This distinction in the law — which is irrational, at best, as it treats oral and anal sex as “worse” than penile-vaginal sex — is a relic of times when all forms of sexual intercourse other than vaginal intercourse were illegal (anti-sodomy laws). Although California’s anti-sodomy laws were repealed more than 40 years ago, this discriminatory relic of the past remains and is harming young people.
This discriminatory law disproportionately targets LGBTQ+ young people by mandating sex offender registration for forms of intercourse in which they engage. For example, if an 18-year-old straight man has penile-vaginal intercourse with his 17-year-old girlfriend, he is guilty of a crime, but he is not automatically required to register as a sex offender; instead, the judge will decide based on the facts of the case whether registration is warranted. By contrast, if an 18 year old gay man has sex with his 17 year old boyfriend, then the judge must place him on the sex offender registry, no matter what the circumstances.
Placing a young person on the sex offender registry can destroy their life. Under longstanding California law, someone placed on the sex offender registry — even for a minor offense like voluntary sex with a partner — has to remain on the registry for life. Under a change in the law (SB 384, 2017, authored by Senator Wiener) that will take effect January 1, 2021, someone convicted of a lesser sex crime will be able to petition to be removed from the registry after 10 years. But requiring a high school or college age young person to spend 10 years on the sex offender is incredibly destructive and can permanently damage their life.
SB 145 does not legalize any kind of sex with a minor and does not change the potential sentence for having sex with an underage person. Rather, the bill simply gives judges the ability to evaluate whether or not to require registration as a sex offender. To be clear, this judicial discretion for sex offender registration is *already* the law for penile-vaginal intercourse when the minor is aged between 14 to 17 years old and the offender is within 10 years of age of the minor. SB 145 simply extends that same discretion to other forms of intercourse. A judge will maintain the authority to place someone on the registry if the behavior at issue was predatory or otherwise egregious. This change will treat straight and LGBTQ+ youth equally, end the discrimination against LGBTQ+ people, and ensure that California stops stigmatizing specific sexual acts.
“The California Legislature once again has demonstrated its firm commitment to LGBTQ+ civil rights and to basic fairness,” said Senator Wiener. “We must stop criminalizing LGBTQ+ young people. There is no logical reason to treat different sex acts differently, and that distinction only exists under California due to egregious legally sanctioned homophobia from the past. We are one step closer to ending discriminatory treatment against LGBTQ+ youth. I am hopeful that Governor Newsom, as a longtime ally to our community, will sign SB 145 into law.”
“Everyone should be treated fairly and equally under the law — that is the core American value at the heart of SB 145,” said Equality California Executive Director Rick Chavez Zbur. “California repealed our so-called ‘sodomy law’ in 1975. But 45 years later, we’re still treating LGBTQ+ young people differently because of their sexual orientation. Thanks to Senator Wiener and the legislators who supported this common-sense fix, we’re one step closer to ending this injustice.”
“The passing of SB 145 guarantees equal and fair application of California’s sex offender registration law regardless of sexual orientation,” said Los Angeles Deputy District Attorney Bradley McCartt. “Ordering someone onto the sex offender registry carries lifelong consequences. Allowing judges and prosecutors to evaluate cases involving voluntary sex acts between young people on an individual basis will ensure justice for all Californians”
Equality California is the nation’s largest statewide LGBTQ civil rights organization. We bring the voices of LGBTQ people and allies to institutions of power in California and across the United States, striving to create a world that is healthy, just, and fully equal for all LGBTQ people. We advance civil rights and social justice by inspiring, advocating and mobilizing through an inclusive movement that works tirelessly on behalf of those we serve. www.eqca.org