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SAN DIEGO — A new California sex offender law has turned San Diego’s mayoral race on its head, with the candidates clashing for the second time this month over a controversial issue that’s prompted allegations of false reporting.
The bill, SB 145, gave judges wider discretion to determine whether someone should be registered as a sex offender in statutory rape cases where both parties say the sex was voluntary.
Under current law, judges can make that decision in cases of vaginal sex involving a 14-17 year old and someone up to 10 years older. SB 145 expands that law to include voluntary oral and anal sex for the same age ranges, a move LGBTQ advocates say ensures equal treatment for gay teenagers.
City Councilmember Barbara Bry opposes the law, while Assemblyman Todd Gloria supports it and claims that misinformation about the policy has made him the target of homophobic attacks.
“No sex act of any kind between an adult and a 14-year-old is acceptable. I agree with Lorena Gonzalez. It is about equality. We should raise the standards to protect both girls and boys,” Bry told FOX 5 in a statement.
“The registry is there to protect our children. I can’t imagine that there is a mom or dad who feels differently. But I respect the right of others to have a different opinion.”
Gloria told FOX 5 he voted for the bill because it “eliminated a provision in the law that punished people differently based on their sexual orientation.”
On Friday, he also called on Bry to denounce what he said has been the spread of misinformation and hate speech online in reaction to his support of the law.
“Misleading reporting on Senate Bill 145 has unleashed a barrage of homophobic and hate-filled rhetoric toward me and many other members of San Diego’s LGBTQ+ community,” he said, in part.
Gloria is running to be San Diego’s first openly gay mayor.
He says his campaign has been dogged by homophobic attacks since a “recent series of inaccurate news stories” about the bill in local media were shared online.
Gloria called on Bry to “to join LGBTQ+ groups and Democrats” in denouncing the “hurtful and damaging” reporting.
Other SB 145 supporters have echoed Gloria’s claim that misinformation on the internet has led people to misunderstand the bill since Gov. Gavin Newsom signed it into law Sept. 11.
An Associated Press fact check found that a Facebook post falsely claiming “PEDOPHILIA is now LEGAL in CALIFORNIA,” has been viewed more than 8 million times.
“Now a 21 year old can have sex with an 11 year old, and not be listed on the sex registry as a sex offender,” another user wrote. “This is unbelievable California!”
Posts making such claims fundamentally misrepresent what SB 145 does, according to the bill’s authors and outside experts.
Jessica Levinson, a professor at Loyola Law School, called the claims “hogwash” in an interview with the AP. “The accusation that it somehow allows pedophilia is simply not true,” Levinson said.
Also contrary to false posts on social media, the bill would not apply when a minor is under the age of 14, when the age gap is larger than 10 years, or when either party says the sex was not consensual.
The SB 145 controversy is the second clash between Gloria and Bry in as many weeks that’s involved claims of false reporting. Gloria claims Bry used a local news report on the controversial Ash Street building downtown against him, even though it was later revealed the story relied on an allegedly forged document.
Bry has called Gloria’s claim that she is running a negative campaign “ridiculous” and says her team “has not engaged in the kind of personal attacks and misrepresentations that have formed the foundation for Mr. Gloria’s campaign.”
As the mayoral race enters its final stage, local political experts say the two Democrats have been jockeying to differentiate from one another.