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The Other Matthew
T he U.S. Supreme Court will revisit the question of whether sodomy laws should remain legal this term when it takes up the case of Lawrence and Garner v. Texas . That case involves the arrest of two men who were engaged in private, consensual sex when police, called to their house by a nosy neighbor who wanted to see the men arrested for having sex, filed a false report of a break-in. But another sodomy case which the court has yet to say it will hear, raises complicated questions about sodomy. If the Supreme Court were to hear it and rule against the law in question, it would deal a decisive blow against archaic sex laws in this country.
That case, Matthew R. Limon v. th e State of Kansas , involves sex between teenagers, one of whom is mentally retarded. In February 2000, Matthew Limon, then 18, was sentenced to 17 years and 2 months in prison for performing oral sex on a 14-year-old male. Limon suffers from a mild form of mental retardation; his diagnosis places his mental capacity between “borderline intellectual functioning” and “mild mental retardation.” The sexual encounter took place at the Lakemary Center in Paola, Kansas, which is a residential school for developmentally delayed children and where Limon had been living since July 1999.
Sometime in mid-February, Limon engaged in oral sex with another male student—named in the court papers only as MAR. MAR initially consented to the sex, but then changed his mind. When he told Limon to stop, Limon did so immediately. Although it remains unclear how the police became involved in the case—presumably someone from the Lakemary Center called them in—both Limon and MAR stated that the sex was consensual. But that didn’t stop the Kansas state court from locking Limon away for a huge chunk of his life.
So how does a consensual blow-job between males—the older of whom has the mental functioning of someone much younger—end with a conviction under one of the harshest state sodomy laws still on the books and a jail sentence of nearly two decades? How were the courts able to hand down such a sentence, given that Kansas has a “Romeo and Juliet law” designed to decriminalize sexual activity between young people? Passed in 1998, that law covers young people under the age of 19 who engage in consensual sexual activity with teens between 14 and 16-years old.
Recognizing that there may be developmental differences in the teen years, the law also stipulates that the ages of the sexual partners be less than four years apart. While the law does not legalize this sexual behavior, it greatly reduces the penalties involved in punishing it. When the interaction between Limon and MAR took place, Limon was three years, one month, and a few days older than MAR.
Well, unfortunately for Limon, Kansas’s Romeo and Juliet law is meant to be taken literally. It applies only to Romeos and Juliets, not to Romeos and Mercutios. It was explicitly written to exclude application in cases involving same-sex activity. So Limon was tried as an adult and charged with engaging in criminal sodomy with a minor. The Kansas sodomy law was written in 1855 (when Kansas was still a territory), but was revised in 1983 to exclude heterosexual activity.
Limon’s court-appointed lawyer, David Estes, first argued that the Kansas law is patently unfair given that such radically different standards are applied to heterosexuals and homosexuals. Estes’s motion was denied, and a district court eventually found Limon guilty because he admitted to the sexual activity. Since he had previously been found guilty of a sodomy charge (once again, a consensual encounter with someone his own age) when he was 15, the judge sentenced him to 17 years in jail. He was also required to undergo 5 years of court supervision after his release and was to be classified as a “sexual offender,” a categorization that will stay with him the rest of his life and, depending upon changes in Kansas law, could mean that his name and address would be publicly available—kept on file at police departments or even listed on websites.
If he or MAR had been female, Limon would have been charged under the Romeo and Juliet law and received, at most, a sentence of 15 months. It’s also entirely possible that if this had been a heterosexual liaison instead of a homosexual one, the incident would never have been brought to the attention of the police and would have been dealt with as an internal management problem at the Lakemary Center. As it stands now, Limon will not get out of prison until he is in his mid 30s. Let’s face it, his sex-with- a-minor charge is going to make prison a living hell: Limon will be a prime target for prison assault, rape, and general persecution.
While the American court system commits horrendous miscarriages of justice on a daily basis, surely the obvious inequality of Matthew Limon’s case should make it ripe for reversal on appeal. Well, not in Kansas. On November 15, 2001, the appeal, brought by Estes and the American Civil Liberties Union, was heard by a three-member panel of the Kansas Court of Appeals. Estes and the ACLU’s argument was simple: having two standards of justice, one for queers and one for heterosexuals, was an obvious violation of the 14th Amendment, which guarantees equal protection under the law. Limon’s lawyers argued that Kansas’s Romeo and Juliet law, as it was written, was unconstitutional and should be struck down and that Matthew Limon’s 17-year sentence was a product of discrimination based on sexual orientation.
On February 20, 2002, the appeals court shocked gay rights and civil liberties groups by upholding Limon’s conviction and declaring that the state of Kansas has the right to make and enforce a law that holds homosexuals and heterosexuals to different standards. Their reasoning was based on the fact that the Kansas sodomy statute, under which Limon was convicted, applied only to same-sex activity, so there was a legal precedent for treating homosexuals differently. But more importantly, they argued, the Kansas sodomy law was constitutional because the U.S. Supreme Court had ruled, in the infamous Bowers v. Hardwick, that the Constitution “does not confer a fundamental right upon homosexuals to engage in sodomy.” Simply put, the idea that homosexuals and heterosexuals should be treated equally before the law was nonsense. By this time, Limon had already spent nearly two years in the Ellsworth Correctional Facility.
Shortly after the Limon case first surfaced in the media, Kansas state representative Mike O’Neal, chair of the Kansas House Judiciary Committee, happily admitted in interviews that legislators, in refusing to amend the state’s sodomy statute or the Romeo and Juliet law, were upholding the state’s long-standing refusal to confer approval on same-sex relationships. This commitment, O’Neal told the Associated Press, was based on a very specific tradition: “The history is really biblically based. Kansas has kind of consistently gone back on that biblical reference.” (This is no doubt the same thinking that led the state’s Board of Education, in August 1999, to mandate that creationism be taught in its public schools.)
Limon’s lawyers and the ACLU then appealed his case to the Kansas Supreme Court. On June 13, 2002, the Court denied the appeal. Now the question is whether the U.S. Supreme Court will elect to hear Matthew R. Limon v. Kansas . As with Garner and Lawrence v. Texas , which involves a sodomy statute that applies only to homosexual activity, the case is being argued on equal-protection grounds. There is no doubt that both of these cases bring into focus the immediate need for the Supreme Court to reverse its 1986 Bowers v. Hardwick decision, a decision that has provided the secure constitutional foundation for maintaining a national policy that treats heterosexuals with more dignity and legal protection than that afforded homosexuals.
But Limon v. Kansas is important for more reasons than these. Although it embodies one of the most important issues in the contemporary fight for gay rights— equality under the law—it touches on a host of other, more moral issues as well: the right of gay youth to have consensual sexual relationships, the right of the mentally challenged to be treated with respect to their capabilities, and the rights of gay people to be understood and accepted as sexual beings.
In this, it’s important to note that the case of Matthew Limon stands in confusing juxtaposition with the case of another noted Matthew: Matthew Shepard. In 1998, Matthew Shepard became a worldwide symbol of the horror of anti-gay violence. Shepard—middle-class, college-educated, intelligent and creative—was a perfect poster child for the cause publicized by his terrible death. Shepard was presented to the American public as an unadulterated victim. At the time of his death and even during the trial of his murderers, it was seen as inappropriate for the media to discuss his HIV status, his possible sexual intentions in chatting up his eventual killers in the bar that night, and his sexual history. Of course, there was good reason for this: to avoid playing into the basest homophobic (and sexist) stereotype that he “was asking for it.” But the reality was that the image of Shepard as “innocent victim” presented the public with a less-than-full portrait of his unique, complex life as a young gay man.
However Matthew Shepard was perceived, there’s no getting around the fact that Matthew Limon makes people much more uncomfortable. Limon was an 18-year-old having sex with a 14-year-old. Even under Kansas’s Romeo and Juliet law that is illegal. Many Americans have problems with queers who are “consenting adults,” never mind “consenting teens.” If this weren’t enough, there is Matthew Limon’s mental functioning to consider. For many, the idea of the mentally retarded having sex, or even having the capacity to make sexual decisions, is upsetting. In this regard, Limon is lucky that he was prosecuted in 2001 and not 1964. Under a 1913 law (repealed in 1965), officials of the state of the Kansas sterilized over 3,000 women and men who had been classified as “insane” or “retarded.” At least 25 percent of them had been sterilized through castration.
Fundamentally, the Limon case is about the right to have sex. Historically, the American legal system has been able to address issues of sexual freedom by ruling on subjects that are intimately connected to sex. The breakthrough decision about birth control was Griswold v. Connecticut , which gave married couples the right to purchase contraceptives (that they would use while having sex). The breakthrough decision on interracial marriages was the appropriately named Loving v. Virginia , which gave interracial couples the right to marry (and then have sex). The breakthrough decision on abortion was Roe v. Wade , which gave women the right to choose whether or not to carry an unexpected pregnancy to term (after having had sex). The issue in Limon is: should gay teens as young as 14 be able to have sex under the same legal conditions as heterosexual teens?
It is easy to make laws and generate sympathy for cases that feature unmessy situations. Even the facts of Lawrence and Garner v. Texas play better in the American media because both defendants are adults. But as much as Limon’s case is a harder sell, it has the potential for a larger victory because it takes up a complicated situation that raises complicated issues.
Michael Bronski is the author of Pulp Friction: Uncovering the Golden Age of Gay Male Pulps .
Z Magazine Archive
AnnouncementsLABOR - May 1 is May Day. Workers of the world will celebrate the 124th anniversary of International Worker’s Day. Born out of a call for an 8-hour workday in the United States, this day is an opportunity for all workers to show their solidarity with one another, as well as to renew the call for labor rights.
FARM CONFERENCE - The Farm Conference on Community and Sustainability will be held May 24-26 in Summertown, TN, in partnership with the Fellowship of Intentional Communities. Tour green homes, see sustainable food production, learn about solar installations, alternative education, midwifery, and more.
Contact: Douglas@thefarmcommunity.com; http://www.thefarmcommunity.com/.
PALESTINE - The Conference of the Palestinian Shatat in North American will be held June 3-5 in Vancouver. The conference will examine the future of the Palestinian liberation movement.
Contact: email@example.com; http://www.palestinianconference.org/.
LABOR - The Pacific Northwest Labor History Association’s 45th annual conference will be held May 3-5, in Portland, OR. This year’s theme is Labor Under Attack: Learning from the Past and Preparing for the Future. A call for presentations, workshops and papers is currently underway.
Contact: PNLHA, 27920 68th Ave. East, Graham, WA 98338; 206-406-2604; PNLHA1@aol.com; http://www3.telus.net.
MARIJUANA - On the first Saturday of May marijuana legalization activists will hold informational and educational events, rallies and marches in over 300 cities around the world.
ECONOMICS - The Union For Radical Political Economics will hold its 39th annual conference May 9-11 in New York City.
RECLAIM THE DREAM - The 2013 Poor People’s Campaign & March from Baltimore to Washington D.C. will be May 11. Communities, schools and unions interested in participating are encouraged to contact the Baltimore People’s Assembly.
Contact: 410-500-2168; 410-218-4835; BaltimorePeoplesAssembly@gmail.com; Southern Christian Leadership Conference of Baltimore and the Baltimore Peoples Power Assembly, 2011 N. Charles St., Baltimore, MD 21218.
MOTHER’S DAY - The 17th Annual Mother’s Day Walk For Peace will be May 12th, in Dorchester, MA. The walk began in 1996 for families who had lost children to violence. The day has become a way for thousands of people to financially support the work of the Louis Brown Peace Institute.
Contact: http://www.ldbpeaceinstitute.org/; http://mothersdaywalk4peace.org/.
NATO 5 - An International Week of Solidarity with the NATO 5 has been called for May 16-21. Supports call on supporters to raise awareness of the NATO 5 and support funds for the defendants on the one-year anniversary of their preemptive arrests.
Contact: firstname.lastname@example.org; https://nato5support.wordpress.com.
MOUNTAINTOP - The 2013 Mountain Justice Summer Activist Training Camp will be held May 19-27 in Damascus, VA. It will be a week of workshops, field trips to view Mountain Top Removal coal mines, direct actions, and service project.
FEMINIST SCI-FI - The feminist science fiction convention WisCon 37 is scheduled for May 24-27 in Madison, WI.
Contact: WisCon, ? SF3, PO Box 1624, Madison, WI 53701; email@example.com; http://www.wiscon.info/.
ANARCHY FEST - A month-long Festival of Anarchy is scheduled for May in Montreal. The festival includes The Montreal Anarchist Bookfair (May 19-20).
Contact: http://www.anarchistbookfair.ca/; http://www.radicalmontreal.com/.
LABOR - The International Labor Rights Forum will present: Down the Supply Chain, Driving Corporate Accountability, on May 22 in Washington, DC. The Labor Rights Awards Ceremony and Reception will honor pioneers in supply chain worker organizing, working solidarity and international labor rights policy.
MULTICULTURE - The 26th annual National Conference on Race & Ethnicity in American Higher Education (NCORE) will take place May 28-June 1, in New Orleans.
Contact: SWCHRS, 3200 Marshall Avenue, Suite 290, Norman, OK 73072; 405-325-3694; firstname.lastname@example.org; www.ncore.ou.edu.
MEDIA - The 2013 Alliance for Community Media Annual Conference will be held May 29-31, in San Francisco, CA. Participants will include educators, community leaders, media professionals, journalists, nonprofit leaders, policymakers and students.
RADIO - The 38th Annual Community Radio Conference is schedule for May 29-June 1, in San Francisco, CA, with discussions and workshops.
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BRADLEY MANNING - On June 1, a rally will be held at Fort Meade in support of Bradley Manning.
BIKES - Bikes Not Bombs is holding its 24th annual Bike-A-Thon and Green Roots Festival in Boston, MA on June 3, with several bike rides scheduled, music, exhibitors and more.
Contact: Bikes Not Bombs, 284 Amory St., Jamaica Plain, MA 02130; 617-522-0222; firstname.lastname@example.org; www.bikesnotbombs.org.
LEFT FORUM - The 2013 Left Forum will be held June 7-9, at Pace University in New York City.
Contact: 365 Fifth Avenue, CUNY Graduated Center, ? Sociology Dept., New York, NY 10016; http://www.leftforum.org/.
VEGAN FEST - Mad City Vegan Fest will be held in Madison, WI, June 8. The annual event features food, speakers, and exhibitors.
Contact: 122 State Street, Suite 405 B, Madison, WI 53701; email@example.com; http://veganfest.org/.
ADC CONFERENCE - The American-Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee (ADC) holds its annual conference June 13-16, in Washington, DC, with panel discussions and workshops on civil rights, media and other topics.
Contact: 1990 M Street, Suite 610, Washington, DC, 20036; 202-244-2990; firstname.lastname@example.org http://convention.adc.org/.
CUBA/SOCIALISM - A Cuban-North American Dialog on Socialist Renewal and Global Capitalist Crisis will be held in Havana, Cuba, June 16-30. There will be a 5 day Seminar at University of Havana, plus visits to a cooperative, urban garden, community development project, social research centers, and educational & medical institutions.
Contact: email@example.com; http://www.globaljusticecenter.org/.
NETROOTS - The 8th Annual Netroots Nation conference will take place June 20-23 in San Jose, CA. The event features panels, trainings, networking, screenings, and keynotes.
Contact: 164 Robles Way, #276, Vallejo, CA 94591; firstname.lastname@example.org; http://www.netrootsnation.org/.
MEDIA - The 15th annual Allied Media Conference will be held June 20-23, in Detroit.
Contact: 4126 Third Street, Detroit, MI 48201; http://alliedmedia.org/.
GRASSROOTS - The United We Stand Festival will be hosted by Free & Equal, June 22 in Little Rock, Arkansas. The festival aims to reform the electoral process throughout the U.S.
SOCIALISM - The Socialism 2013 Conference is scheduled for June 27-30 in Chicago, featuring talks and panel discussions.
Contact: email@example.com; http://www.socialismconference.org.
LITERACY - The National Association for Media Literacy Education (NAMLE) will hold its conference July 12-13 in Los Angeles under the heading, Intersections: Teaching and Learning Across Media.
Contact: 10 Laurel Hill Drive, Cherry Hill, NJ 08003; http://namle.net/conference/.
IWW - The North American Work People’s College will take place July 12-16 at Mesaba Co-op Park in northern Minnesota. The event will bring together Wobblies from branches across the continent to learn new skills and build One Big Union.
PEACESTOCK - On July 13th, the 11th Annual Peacestock: A Gathering for Peace, will take place at Windbeam Farm in Hager City, WI. The event is a mixture of music, speakers and community for peace. Sponsored by Veterans for Peace.
Contact: Bill Habedank, 1913 Grandview Ave., Red Wing, MN 55066; 651-388-7733; firstname.lastname@example.org; http://www.peacestockvfp.org.
CHILDREN’S DEFENSE - July 15-19, join clergy, seminarians, Christian educators, young adult leaders and other faith-based advocates for children at CDF Haley Farm in Clinton, Tennessee, for five days of spiritual renewal, networking, movement building workshops, and continuing education about the urgent needs of children at the 19th annual Proctor Institute for Child Advocacy Ministry.
Contact: email@example.com; http://www.childrensdefense.org.
ACTIVIST CAMP - Youth Empowered Action (YEA) Camp will have sessions in July and August in Ben Lomond, CA; Portland, OR; Charlton, MA. YEA Camp is designed for activists 12-17 years old who want to make a difference in the world.
Contact: firstname.lastname@example.org; http://yeacamp.org/.
LA RAZA - The annual National Council of La Raza (NCLR) Conference is scheduled for July 18-19 in New Orleans, with workshops, presentations and panel discussions.
Contact: NCLR Headquarters Office, Raul Yzaguirre Building, 1126 16th Street, NW, Washington, DC 20036; 202-785-1670; www.nclr.org.
LABOR - The Eastern Conference For Workplace Democracy: Growing Our Cooperatives, Growing Our Communities, will be held at Drexel University in Philadelphia, PA, July 26-28.
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WOMEN/LYNNE STEWART- Radical Women is asking for support letters and cards to be sent to Lynne Stewart. Stewart is a civil rights attorney and political prisoner who is currently in jail. She has breast cancer and authorities have denied her request for transfer from her Texas prison to the New York City hospital where she received medical attention during a prior bout of breast cancer. Send messages and cards to: Lynne Stewart 53504-054, Federal Medical Center Carswell, P.O. Box 27137, Fort Worth, TX 76127.
Contact: 747 Polk Street, San Francisco, CA 94109; 415-864-1278; RadicalWomenUS@gmail.com; http://lynnestewart.org/; http://www.radicalwomen.org/.
HAITI/WOMEN - Haiti’s government is considering a legal reform measure that would prohibit and punish all sexual assault, including marital rape. MADRE and the International Campaign to Stop Rape & Gender Violence in Conflict are launching a petition to raise international support for this push to address violence against women in Haiti.
Contact: 121 West 27th Street, #301, New York, NY 10001; 212-627-0444; firstname.lastname@example.org; http://www.madre.org.
SYRIA/MIDDLE EAST - The Middle East Children’s Alliance (MECA) is currently seeking funds to assist more than 200,000 refugees fleeing violence in Syria.
FOLK FESTIVAL - The Falcon Ridge Folk Festival will be held August 2-4, in the Berkshires, NY.
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WAR RESISTERS - The War Resisters League will hold its 90th anniversary conference, Revolutionary Nonviolence: Building Bridges Across Generations and Communities, August 1-4, at Georgetown University. The event will focus on the U.S.’ long history of antimilitarism.
Contact: 339 Lafayette Street, New York, NY 10012; 212-228-0450; firstname.lastname@example.org; http://www.warresisters.org.
POPULAR ECONOMICS - The Center for Popular Economics is holding its 2013 Summer Institute August 4-9 at Hampshire College in Amherst, MA. No background in economics is needed for this intensive training. This year’s theme is, The Care Economy: Building a Just Economy with a Heart.
Contact: Center for Popular Economics, PO Box 785 Amherst, MA 01004; 413-545-0743; email@example.com; www.populareconomics.org.
VETERANS - Veterans for Peace is holding the 28th annual convention August 6-11 in Madison, WI. This year’s theme is, Power To The Peaceful.
DEMOCRACY - The Democracy Convention will take place August 7-11 in Madison, WI. The convention brings together nine conferences including topics such as media, education, defense, race, environment and others.
MEN - The 38th National Conference on Men & Masculinity: Forging Justice: Creating Safe, Equal and Accountable Communities, presented in partnership with HAVEN, will be held in Detroit, MI, August 8-10.
Contact: firstname.lastname@example.org; http://www.nomas.org/.
OCCUPY - An Occupy National Gathering will be held in Kalamazoo, MI, August 21-25.
Contact: email@example.com; http://occupynationalgathering.net/.
COMMUNITIES - The Communities Conference is a networking and learning opportunity for co-operative or communal lifestyles, with workshops, events and entertainment; scheduled for August 30-September 2 at the Twin Oaks Community in Louisa, Virginia.
LABOR DAY - The 29th annual Bread and Roses Festival, a celebration of the ethnic diversity and labor history of Lawrence, MA, will be held September 2, in honor of the 1912 Bread and Roses Strike. There will be music, dance, poetry, drama, ethnic food, historical demonstrations, walking & trolley tours.
Contact: PO Box 1137, Lawrence, MA 01842; 978-794-1655; http://www.breadandrosesheritage.org/.
OCCUPY WALL STREET - September 17 is the two-year anniversary of the Occupy Wall Street movement. Events are planned in New York City and worldwide.
TEACHERS - The 13th Annual Conference, “Teaching for Social Justice: The Politics of Pedagogy,” will be held October 12 in San Francisco, CA. The free event features workshops, resources, and free childcare.
Contact: 415-676-7844; firstname.lastname@example.org; http://www.t4sj.org/.
HAITI - International Action, which brings clean water and chlorinators to Haiti, seeks office space capable of housing up to six people and their office equipment.
Contact: Zach Bremer, Zbrehmer@haitiwater.org; 202-488-0735; http://www.haitiwater.org/.
MEDIA - The Union for Democratic Communications and Project Censored are sponsoring a joint conference on media democracy, media activism and social justice to be held November 1-3 at the University of San Francisco. Proposals for presentations, workshops and panels from activists and critical scholars are invited.