US: Texas may extend legal protections to include gay teenagers

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Despite strong opposition from Republican leaders, lawmakers in the US state of Texas may attempt to introduce new legal protections for sexually active gay teens.

Current Texas laws over crimes of indecency with a child include sexual contact with minors, under the age of 17. The law currently includes a “Romeo and Juliet” legal defence, which can be used if the couple are both older than 14 years old, within three years age of each other, and in a consensual relationship.

The current legal defence, however, specifies that the it can only be used for couples of the “opposite sex”.

There are bills scheduled for hearings by committees in both the House and Senate, which would remove the language specifying that couples must be straight, in order to extend the legal protection to gay teenagers.

Representative Mary Gonzalez, an El Paso Democrat, authored the House bill. Senator John Whitmire, a Houston Democrat told the Associated Press that he introduced the Senate bill out of a “sense of fairness.”

He said: “In this day and time, I recognize that people of the same sex become partners,” Whitmire said. “I think there’s a recognition nationally that we could do better [in] how we treat people that have same-sex relationships.”

LGBT rights advocates have criticised the current laws, and the distinction therein, for being discriminatory.

Equality Texas Executive Director Chuck Smith said he was not aware of any cases under which same-sex teenage couples had been prosecuted, but called for the law to be changed, with a view to acheiving equality.

“Law enforcement does not get involved in instances like this if they are of opposite sex,” he said. “It should be no different” if the couple is same-sex.

Advocates of the bill argued that sexually active teenagers might be avoiding seeking medical treatment for STIs, given that they could be prosecuted under the current law.

Smith, however, denied that advocates of the legislation were encouraging teen sex. He said: “We are not advocating teen sex. No one is advocating teen sex.”

The state of Texas has a constitutional amendment which bans equal marriage.