Constitutional Law Criminal Law Litigation

With Equal Rights Comes Equal Responsibility

You would be hard pressed to find anyone more in favor of equal rights for gay men and women than yours truly. But I am completely dumbstruck at the outrage expressed over the arrest of Kaitlyn Hunt, an 18 year old girl from Florida, who was charged with lewd and lascivious battery of a child when it was revealed that she had a sexual relationship with a 14 year old schoolmate. Since her arrest a few months ago, Kaitlyn’s parents have somehow turned her case to a gay rights issue. Kelly Hunt Smith, Kaitlyn’s mother, created a Facebook page to gain support for her daughter in an effort to get the charges dropped, the station says. The page, entitled “Free Kate,” had over 30,000 members as of early Tuesday. Smith posted on the page that the girlfriend’s parents “conspired with police to entrap Katilyn” because they disapproved of the relationship. A similar petition on was set up by Kaitlyn’s father, Steven Hunt, and has more than 56,500 supporters calling for prosecutors to drop the charges. Steven Hunt claims his daughter’s relationship with the 14-year-old girl was consensual and that the girlfriend’s parents went to police because they blamed Katilyn for their child’s homosexuality, according to local news reports.

marriage equalityI don’t get it. You couldn’t get 5 signatures on a petition to free a young man accused of having a sexual relationship with a 14 year old girl. Trust me, I have stood next to many young men over the years accused of such conduct. Pages of love letters from the complainant attesting to her love for the defendant and her desire that he not be jailed or even prosecuted fall on deaf ears of prosecutors in NY. Because in NY, as in Florida, sex crimes involving children under the age of consent are strict liability crimes – it does not matter if you had the girl’s permission or if she was the one who initiated the sexual contact. Here in NY its called Statutory Rape or Sexual Abuse. In NY, though, if the complainant is older than 14 the defendant has to be more than 4 four years to make it criminal. Florida’s law says any person 18 or older who engages in sexual activity with a minor between the ages of 12 and 16 commits the crime of lewd and lascivious battery. “The idea is to protect people in that vulnerable group from people who are older, 18 and above,” Bruce Colton, state attorney for Florida’s 19th circuit, said, according to the station. “…The statute specifically says that consent is not a defense.” Colton said prosecutors will not drop the charges based on the public petition. He said this case exemplifies the purpose of the current law and added he would not support any effort to make consensual relationships among peers legal, the station reports: “There’s a big maturity difference between them,” he said. “You’re talking the difference between a senior in high school and a freshman in high school. That’s what the law is designed to protect.”

So therefore, the law must be applied equally. It would be unfair to the many men and some women, past present and future, charged with similar crimes if the parties’ sexual orientation somehow made what the legislature decreed illegal, legal. As gay rights properly gains national attention and the mood of the nation moves slowly but steadily toward tolerance (if not quite all-out acceptance), I think it hurts gay rights to try and make this case a gay-rights issue. It’s hard to ask for equal treatment and special treatment at the very same time.

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