Bill would ease sexting penalties, but consensual gay sex can still be a felony for teens in Texas

Attorney General Greg Abbott

Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott is endorsing legislation that would ease criminal penalties for teens who are convicted of sexting — transmitting explicit photos of themselves or other minors using computers and mobile devices.

Currently, teens who send or receive photos of someone who is underage can be charged with third-degree felony child pornography, punishable by up to 10 years in prison, and forced to register as sex offenders for the rest of their lives.

Under SB 408, which was filed today, sexting would become a class-C misdemeanor for first-time violators who are under 18.

“Studies show that teenage students are increasingly taking, sending and receiving explicit pictures of themselves on their mobile telephones,” Abbott said in a press release. “This dangerous trend is harmful to young Texans. We are joining with Sen. Kirk Watson to address the growing problem of sexting and educate – not criminalize – young Texans who make the unwise decision to participate in it.”

For once we agree with Abbott here. This bill makes sense for both straight and LGBTQ teens, and perhaps especially for gay teens in the age of Grindr, etc.

But if our attorney general truly supports the concept of not criminalizing teens, he should also support efforts to fix the state’s discriminatory age-of-consent laws, commonly referred to as “Romeo and Juliet” provisions.

As we’ve noted before, if a 17-year-old MALE has consensual sexual contact with a 16-year-old MALE in Texas, the older individual can be charged with a second-degree felony and sentenced to up to 20 years in prison. On the other hand, if the older individual is MALE and the younger person is FEMALE (or vice versa), the older person can argue an “affirmative defense” and have the charge dismissed on that basis.

In other words, while SB 408 would make sexting a class-C misdemeanor, gay teens who have consensual sex, unlike their straight peers, have no defense against a charge of indecency with a minor.

Rep. Garnet Coleman, D-Houston, has introduced bills in previous sessions that would fix this discriminatory law, but there’s no word on whether he plans to do so this year.

Even if he does, don’t expect Abbott to support it.

UPDATE: Coleman’s office confims that he does plan to file the bill again this year.

—  John Wright