California Governor Gavin Newsom signed SB-145, relating to sex with minors, into law on Friday amid great controversy that the bill has raised in the state and nationwide.
Current California law mandates that an adult who is found to have had oral or anal sex with a minor be automatically placed on the sex offender registry. On the other hand, for adults who are found to have had vaginal intercourse with a minor, the judge has discretion based on the facts of the case whether or not to require the offender be placed on the sex offender registry.
SB-145 gives judges that same discretionary ability in cases of oral or anal sex with a minor, so long as the minor was between 14 and 17 years of age, and that they are no more than 10 years younger than the offender.
The bill has faced fierce scrutiny from the right, but advocates argue that the bill’s purpose is to ensure that LGBTQ young adults are treated no differently than their heterosexual peers.
“Senate Bill 145 is an anti-discrimination law,” said State Senator Scott Wiener (D), the author of the bill. “It ends discrimination against LGBTQ people on the sex offender registry.”
He has defended the bill by comparing different hypothetical sex acts between a 19-year-old and a 17-year-old:
“A 19-year-old has a 17-year-old girlfriend and they have sex, that is statutory rape. But the law right now says that the judge does not have to put that 19-year-old boy on the sex offender registry because of the kind of sex that they were having. But if it’s a 19-year-old boy having sex with a 17-year-old boyfriend, the judge must put that 19-year-old onto the sex offender registry, even if it was completely consensual, even if they were boyfriends, even if there was nothing coercive or predatory about it.”
Wiener argues that the bill has been supported by law enforcement officials, civil rights groups, and sexual assault survivor groups.
California State Senator Melissa Melendez is one of those opposing voices of the bill.
“SB145 allows adults who have ‘consensual’ sex with a 14 year old to not be charged as sex offenders,” she wrote on Twitter. “It’s a disgusting bill and one that should be promptly vetoed.”
Melendez and Wiener have gone back and forth on Twitter debating the bill. Wiener has accused Melendez of “misrepresenting” the legislation.
“You’re trying to normalize sex with children,” Melendez responded in one Tweet. “And I’m not going to let you get away with it.”
Republicans haven’t been the only ones criticizing the bill. Assemblywoman Lorena Gonzalez, a Democrat from San Diego, attacked the bill during an Assembly floor debate on August 31st:
“I cannot, in my mind, as a mother, understand how sex between a 24-year-old and a 14-year-old could ever be consensual, how it could ever not be a registerable offense. I challenge everybody: Give me a situation where a 24-year-old had sex with a 14-year-old, any kind of sex, and it wasn’t predatory.”
The bill passed the Senate in a vote of 23-10 and the Assembly 41-18 before reaching the Governor’s desk.