Wednesday, September 03, 2008

What the Palin pregnancy says about US sex laws.

By now, thanks to the media sharks, virtually everyone in the country knows that Sarah Palin’s daughter is pregnant. She is 17 and pregnancy at that age is neither miraculous not uncommon. Lots of teenage girls get pregnant and any history on human sexuality shows this has been the case for millennia.

But America is in the grips of a sexual panic. And the fanatical religionists and their feminist allies have invented new language to redefine common adolescent sexuality to label it deviant and criminal. Let us recap the situation within the Palin family for clarity.

The daughter is 17 years old. Her boyfriend is 18 years old. She is five months pregnant. From that we can assume that they, at the very latest, had intercourse sometime in May. The girl will turn 18 in October. We do not know, nor is it anyone’s business, how old she was the first time she had sex with her boyfriend.

Now, in this case, the couple had already spoken about marriage before the pregnancy was discovered. Both sets of parents are supportive of the couple and a marriage is being planned. What I doubt they know, and what I doubt most people would know, is that is the luck of the draw that the young man is not being carted off as a sex offender into America’s sex gulag.

I say it is the luck of the draw because another couple, under precisely the same circumstances, could find the police taking the father off to jail in other states. And just a few days here or there can make a difference between a difficult situation and a criminal case.

We should assume that the young couple in question consummated their relationship in Alaska as that is where they were living. And in Alaska the age of consent begins at 16. Palin turned 16 last October. Provided that they only started having sex after that date she was deemed legally capable of consenting.

But, if the couple were residing elsewhere in the United States, the government is fully prepared to step in and take a difficult situation and turn it into a tragic one. Consider what could happen to the young couple elsewhere.

What would have happened had the young couple in question engaged in youthful sexuality in Arizona? There the young man would become both a “father-to-be” and a felon at the same time. Any sexual act by an 18-year-old and a 17-year-old is a felony in Arizona, even if the girl’s mother is running for vice president of the United States.

In California the young man would be guilty of a crime, though only a misdemeanor. But he would still be guilty of a “sex crime”. In Florida the boy is also a sex felon unless he could prove that the girl wasn’t “chaste” before they had sex. In Illinois the young man is also a sex criminal though it is also a misdemeanour there.

In Idaho the young man would be a felon as well. In Texas the young man has committed a crime but has an affirmative defense provided he didn’t use force at the time, wasn’t more than three years older than the “victim”, and if the “victim” was of the opposite sex. In other words, if the two young people were gay then the older one would be a ‘sexual predator” but isn’t a “predator” if the younger partner is of the opposite sex. (What did you expect? It’s Texas.)

I should add that if Ms. Palin and her partner were having sex a few months earlier than what is undeniably the case than her husband-to-be would be a sex offender in another dozen or so states.

But, with the facts as everyone admits them, we can safely say that the young man would be considered a sex felon in three states and guilty of sexual misdemeanors in a couple of others. The felony charges would be sufficient to force him to become a “registered sex offender” and enter the sexual gulag.

Does any reasonable person actually think that the young man is a “sex offender” and should be treated as one? Few do. In this case he wants to marry his sweetheart and they will raise the child. That’s nice and I wish them well. Even their religious supporters say they are doing the right thing. But those same supporters, in various states, put laws on the books which would mandate the young man’s arrest, imprisonment and his joining the sex registry database, if this had happened there.

Does anyone actually think that would be a good thing? Would that be good for Ms. Palin? Would that be good for the baby? Would this somehow make our society safer? Would the young man actually benefit in any way? Would anyone, anywhere, actually get any benefit of any kind if that were to happen? No. But point that out and you are accused of being soft on pedophiles -- even when the cases have absolutely nothing to do with pedophilia, such as this one.

Certainly Ms. Palin and her partner were lucky that they were doing the horizontal mambo in Alaska and not in some civilized state like California or Arizona. So you can see why I say that the accident of being born in Alaska did them both some good. And I think you can also see why I say that this difficult situation could easily become a tragic one if other state governments had jurisdiction over them.

There is one more aspect of this case that is even more bizarre. And that is the sex panic law pushed by John Walsh, the wacko host of America’s Most Wanted television show. Walsh pushed through legislation in the Congress, which President Bush eagerly signed, which says that if someone is convicted of being a sex offender in one state that they must register as a sex offender in any other state to which they move.

Consider carefully what that law did. Let us assume that Ms. Palin and her partner were in Arizona when their consummation took place. In Arizona the young man is a sex felon and could be required to register as a sex offender there. If he moves to Alaska, where his behavior is not illegal, under the Walsh Act, he would still be required to register as a “sex offender” even though his actions are not an offense in Alaska.

Such is the oddity of law. That the couple were in Alaska makes their act legal and they can move to states where it is a felony without suffering for it. But if they had sex in Arizona, where the act is a felony, and then moved to Alaska, under Walsh’s nonsense, the young man would be a sex offender. Alaska would have to treat him as a sex felon for something which is not a crime in Alaska. (Please note that this awful law, embraced by Republicans, is in dispute in the courts so it impossible to say whether Walsh’s bullshit will prevail or not.)

It should be also noted that this federal law doesn’t treat people equally before the law. The same act in Alaska warrants no punishment nationally. But under Walsh’s nonsense, a teenage male in Arizona would be registered as a sex offender nationally. A teen in Alaska, who did the same thing, would have no legal intervention or punishment whatsoever. So the Feds treat one as a dangerous sexual felon while ignoring the other. This is one reason such laws ought not be federal mandates and one reason that no such power was enumerated to the central government by the Constitution -- not that anyone in Washington, especially Mr. Walsh worry about that old piece of paper.

The reality is that adolescent sexuality exists and has always existed. It is not deviant even if it is usually poorly thought out. That one of the teens is slightly older than the other is not unusual either. But many of the states make consenting sex between adolescents a crime. And the older of the couple could face lifelong punishment as a “sex offender” under the draconian sex offender laws.

In cases like the one involving Ms. Palin, it is two teens who let their hormones do their thinking for them. It might be dumb, it might be counterproductive, it might even put into motion a series of unfortunate experiences for them. All those things are possible, perhaps likely. But exactly how does government make this situation better by turning the father into a sex felon and pushing him onto the overused sex registry lists? America’s sex laws are out-of-touch with reality and while they might be inspired by a desire to “help” people they are too often counterproductive and/or destructive. When laws create more harm than the they are able to mitigate then common sense alone tells you to repeal them.

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