About a week and a half ago Americans were introduced to Kaitlyn Hunt, an 18 year old Florida high school student who was being persecuted for engaging in a lesbian relationship with a younger classmate. As the dust settled, Americans found out that the narrative provided by Kaitlyn’s family lacked the soundness of truth. Contrary to the earliest reports, Kaitlyn was not 17 when the relationship began, she was 18; her girlfriend was not 15, but rather 14 at the time of their first sexual encounter.
Many political progressives have been eager to defend Kaitlyn, and quick to denounce the bigotry that surely motivated the 14 year old’s parents. Not surprisingly, these myopic impulses fit the progressive narrative perfectly: right-wing extremists hate people who are involved in same-sex relationships. In reality Kaitlyn Hunt is experiencing true equality.
Four years ago two 17 year old Wisconsin teens, one male and one female, were independently arrested for having underage sexual partners (the partners in both cases were 14). The Daily Beast subsequently noted that the female suspect was treated more favorably than the male suspect. A few years farther back, two high profile cases in Georgia raised questions about the age of consent, statutory rape, and child molestation. Both of the defendants spent time behind bars. Obviously Kaitlyn’s trial isn’t unique, and if blogger Mania Trecks is any indication, many gay Americans find it off-putting that Ms. Hunt’s family “pulled the gay card.”
Rather than political point-scoring, all Americans, regardless of their sexual desires, need to demand their state representatives reevaluate the laws that address statutory rape. If nothing else, the age of consent should be lowered to 15 (it’s often 16), and the Romeo and Juliet exception broadened, thereby allowing all high school students to engage in mature physical relationships with the person of their choice.
Additionally, fewer crimes should require registration as a sex offender. Consensual relationships between teenagers, and fairly frivolous crimes (e.g. nudity or urinating in public) are not serious enough to justify the loss of privacy and community standing that attends the label of sex offender. Kaitlyn Hunt clearly lacked the maturity and legal awareness to wisely end the relationship after she was asked to do so, but she isn’t a menace to society and therefore should not be labeled a sex offender.
In an age of relaxed mores and omnipresent social media, families will continue to struggle with what constitutes acceptable behavior. Unfortunately, each inter-family struggle now has the potential of going viral.