Note: The following story contains sensitive subject matter.
SACRAMENTO, Calif. — San Diego Mayor Kevin Faulconer sharply criticized Gov. Gavin Newsom Saturday for signing a law that expands judges’ discretion on whether to list someone as a sex offender in certain cases involving teens.
The bill — touted as bringing legal equality to young LGBTQ defendants — was signed Friday.
Currently, judges can decide whether to put someone on the sex offender registry only if the case involved a person having voluntary vaginal intercourse. The new measure expands that discretion to cases involving voluntary oral or anal sex, too.
Newsom and other supporters say the bill is intended for cases involving two young people who say the sex was consensual, though illegal.
They say that under previous law, judges could use their discretion to not register straight defendants in cases involving, for example, a pair of high school students, but did not give them the same lee-way in cases involving gay offenders.
But Mayor Faulconer said on Twitter Saturday that the law was a step in the wrong direction.
“As a parent I’m appalled that last night our governor signed a law maintaining a 24-year-old can have sex with a 14-year-old and it not be considered predatory,” the mayor said, alluding to a hypothetical case in which a judge decided not to list someone as a sex offender despite being at the limit of the pre-existing 10-year age gap requirement for such a decision to be allowed.
“An adult who commits ANY sex act on a minor 10 years younger must be registered a sex offender. Law must be changed.”
While the 10-year age gap Faulconer alludes to has been the focus of much criticism for the new bill, proponents note that that provision has been in the state’s sex offender registry law for decades — the new policy makes no change to that existing portion of sex crimes law in California.
State Sen. Scott Wiener (D-San Francisco), the bill’s author, characterizes the current state law as a remnant of California’s old anti-sodomy laws intended to criminalize sex between men, the Los Angeles Times reports.
The law treats “LGBTQ young people the exact same way that straight young people have been treated since 1944,” he said.
Since the law was signed, it has generated a flurry of online conspiracy theories, some of which falsely claimed that California is legalizing pedophilia.
Other critics have argued that granting any further lee-way to judges for less severe punishments involving sex offenders is simply wrong-headed. That includes critics from the governor’s own party, like Assemblywoman Lorena Gonzalez (D-San Diego), who said before the bill’s passage:
“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. We should never give up on this idea that children should be in no way subject to a predator.”
The bill was supported by civil rights groups as well as the California District Attorneys Association and California Police Chiefs Association, the Associated Press reports.