California Gov. Gavin Newsom on Friday signed a law that would give judges a say on whether to list someone as a sex offender for having oral or anal sex with a minor.
The bill would expand the discretion currently granted judges in statutory rape cases and was promoted as bringing fairness under the law to LGBTQ defendants.
The current law, in place for decades, permits judges to decide whether a man should be placed on California’s sex offender registry if he had voluntary intercourse with someone 14 to 17 years old and was no more than 10 years older than the person.
But that discretion only applied to a man who had vaginal intercourse. The new change permits judges to use that same discretion when the case involves voluntary oral or anal sex.
The measure won’t apply when a minor is under 14, when the age gap is larger than 10 years, or when either party says the sex wasn’t consensual.
The bill was introduced by state Sen. Scott Wiener, a San Francisco Democrat.
The law ends discrimination “by treating LGBTQ young people the exact same way that straight young people have been treated since 1944,” Wiener said in a statement, adding: “Today, California took yet another step toward an equitable society.”
Equality California, a non-profit civil rights group that co-sponsored the bill with the Los Angeles County district attorney’s office, also applauded Newsom’s signing.
“If we want a California for all, then we need a justice system that treats all Californians fairly and equally — regardless of who they are, what they look like or whom they love,” Executive Director Rick Chavez Zbur said in the statement released by Wiener’s office.
The bill passed the Assembly and Senate on split votes, with some members objecting to what they saw as an easing of punishments against those who have sex with minors.
“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 registrable offense,” Assemblywoman Lorena Gonzalez, D-San Diego, said before the bill’s passage. “We should never give up on this idea that children should be in no way subject to a predator.”
Online critics had falsely blasted the measure as legalizing pedophilia.
The bill was supported by civil rights groups as well as the California District Attorneys Association and California Police Chiefs Association.