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California’s SB 145 signed into law by Governor Gavin Newsom

Scott Wiener SB 145

California Sen. Scott Wiener (D-San Francisco) speaks during a committee hearing in May about SB 932, which would require providers and county health agencies to collect data on the LGBTQ community and COVID-19. Photo: Screengrab.

Gov. Gavin Newsom signed Senate Bill 145 Friday evening, ending discrimination against LGBTQ young people who are forced to be listed on California’s sex offender registry.

SB 145 only applies to sentencing. It will give judges the authority to determine if someone who has been convicted of consensual anal or oral sex should have to register as a sex offender. Judges already have the discretion to make that decision with vaginal intercourse cases.

SB 145 signed into law

A loophole in the law, which has been on the books since 1944, forces anyone convicted of consensual anal oral sex, such as gay men or lesbians, to register as a sex offender. Judges have no authority in these cases.

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At the time, homosexuality was illegal in California, and this element was a way of punishing and stigmatizing gay men and lesbians. It’s also a relic from California’s homophobic past.

California’s ‘broken’ sex offender registry gets reformed in new bill

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“It’s appalling that in 2020, California continues to discriminate against LGBTQ people, by mandating that LGBTQ young people be placed on the sex offender registry in situations where straight people aren’t required to be placed on the registry,” Sen. Scott Wiener (D-San Francisco), the bill’s author said in a statement.

“SB 145 simply ends that discrimination by treating LGBTQ young people the exact same way that straight young people have been treated since 1944.”

Right-wing critics of the bill have targeted Wiener with vicious attacks and threats and launched a misinformation campaign about SB 145, falsely claiming it legalized sex with minors and promoted pedophilia.

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SB 145 facts

SB 145, which will become law Jan. 1, 2021, does not legalize sex with a minor younger than 14 years old and does apply to intercourse of any kind with minors who are younger than 14.

SB 145 only applies to voluntary sex.

The bill also does not change the potential sentence for anyone convicted of having sex with anyone younger than 14. In those cases, mandatory sex offender registration is required by law.

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The age of consent for sexual intercourse in California is 18. Accordingly, any sex act with a person younger than 18 is a crime, though whether it is a misdemeanor or felony depends on the age of the people involved, according to the California Penal Code.

Fixing the law

Under current law, an offender who commits voluntary yet illegal “sexual intercourse,” meaning vaginal intercourse, between a teenager age from 14 to 17 years of age and a partner within 10 years of age, is not required to be listed on the state’s sex offender registry. Instead, the judge has discretion to decide, based on the facts of the case, whether the sex offender registration is warranted or unwarranted —except in cases involving anal or oral sex.

SB 145 will fix that discrimination and protect LGBTQ young people.

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“Ordering someone onto the sex offender registry carries lifelong consequences,” Los Angeles Deputy District Attorney Bradley McCartt said in a statement. “Allowing judges and prosecutors to evaluate cases involving voluntary sex acts between young people on an individual basis will ensure justice for all Californians.”

About the author

Phillip Zonkel

Award-winning journalist Phillip Zonkel spent 17 years at Long Beach's Press-Telegram, where he was the first reporter in the paper's history to have a beat covering the city's vibrant LGBTQ. He also created and ran the popular and innovative LGBTQ news blog, Out in the 562.

He won two awards and received a nomination for his reporting on the local LGBTQ community, including a two-part investigation that exposed anti-gay bullying of local high school students and the school districts' failure to implement state mandated protections for LGBTQ students.

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