|Thomas Garrett Jr|
By Courtney Stein Vargas
A Virginia bill backed by a Republican lawmaker that aims to reinstate a controversial anti-sodomy law could have the unintended consequence of criminalizing oral sex among consenting teens.
The bill, introduced by state Sen. Thomas Garrett Jr., would amend and revive a former law which was struck down following a 2013 federal court ruling.
The revised version would state that any person who engages in oral or anal sex with someone under 18 years old is guilty of a felony, punishable by one to five years.
Though the bill is aimed at adult predators, critics warn it could also punish consenting teenagers. The ACLU of Virginia told FoxNews.com: “[b]ottom line, we oppose SB 14 (PDF) as introduced.” The ACLU said Garrett is planning to amend it.
- Why do you need this law when they already have laws about sexual activity with underage children, except to put his name to it to look "tough" on crime?
In response to critics, Garrett says he’s only trying to protect minors from adult sex predators. His office issued a statement on Friday saying: "This legislation states that no act currently defined under Virginia Code §18.2-361 is a crime unless committed by an adult with a minor. These are the only purposes of SB14. This clarification will prevent the possible release of upwards of 100 convicted child predators from Virginia prisons."
Notably, Garrett isn't the first to attempt to legislate teen sex.
In many states, the legality of two minors engaging in sexual intercourse is based on their age difference.
For example, in Texas, sexual contact with someone under 17 is illegal if the other person is three or more years older. Last week, in Florida, state Sen. Rob Bradley introduced a bill that would make it a felony for a person younger than 18 to have sex with someone 12-17 years old (though teens over 16 could be in the clear, based on a separate provision).
Likewise, it appears Garrett’s bill would outlaw sexual acts among consenting teens.
Virginia has been tweaking these laws ever since a 2003 Supreme Court ruling finding anti-sodomy laws unconstitutional. Virginia subsequently amended its Crime Against Nature law, making it a felony to carnally know “any male or female person by the anus or by or with the mouth.”
In March 2013, the 4th Circuit Court of Appeals, though, struck down Virginia's law.
Virginia's current law states a person 18 or younger who has genital, oral or anal sex with a 13- or 14-year-old who is less than three years the person's junior is guilty of a misdemeanor punishable by a fine of not more than $250. Under Garrett's bill, oral or anal sex in such cases would be a felony punishable by one to five years.
Garrett’s bill might actually stop short of achieving his purported goal. Though his bill would toughen the penalty for an adult who has oral or anal sex with a 15-17 year-old, bringing the crime from a misdemeanor to a felony, it would seem to cut in half the current penalty for adults who have oral or anal sex with 13- and 14-year-olds.
Currently, Virginia's law says a person who is 18 or older who has genital, oral or anal sex with a minor who is 13 or 14 is guilty of a felony, punishable by two to 10 years. Under Garrett's bill, a person, regardless of their age, who has oral or anal sex with a person under 18 years old is guilty of a felony, punishable by one to five years.
Since releasing the statement, Garrett’s office has filed amendments to the bill, which will be heard in the Courts of Justice committee meeting on Wednesday.