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Court strikes law on gay sex

Harsher sentences in Kansas rejected

TOPEKA, Kan.-- The Kansas Supreme Court yesterday unanimously struck down a state law that punished underage sex more severely if it involved homosexual acts, saying ''moral disapproval" of such conduct is not enough to justify the different treatment.

In a case closely watched by national groups on all sides of the gay rights debate, the high court said the law ''suggests animus toward teenagers who engage in homosexual sex."

Gay rights groups praised the ruling, while conservatives protested that the court intruded on the Legislature's authority to make the laws.

The case involved Matthew R. Limon, 18, who was found guilty in 2000 of performing a sex act on a 14-year-old boy and was sentenced to 17 years in prison. Had one of them been a girl, state law would have dictated a maximum sentence of 15 months.

The high court ordered that Limon be resentenced as though the law treated illegal gay sex and illegal heterosexual sex the same. He has already served more than five years.

Limon's lawyer, James Esseks of the American Civil Liberties Union's Lesbian and Gay Rights Project, said: ''We are very happy that Matthew will soon be getting out of prison. We are sorry there is no way to make up for the extra four years he spent in prison simply because he is gay."

Kansas Attorney General Phill Kline said in a statement that he does not plan to appeal.

A lower court had ruled that the state could justify the harsher punishment as a way of protecting children's traditional development, fighting disease, or strengthening traditional values.

But the Supreme Court said the law was too broad to meet those goals. ''The statute inflicts immediate, continuing, and real injuries that outrun and belie any legitimate justification that may be claimed for it," Justice Marla Luckert wrote. ''Moral disapproval of a group cannot be a legitimate state interest."

The Kansas court also cited the landmark US Supreme Court decision in 2003 that struck down a Texas law against gay sodomy.

Limon and the other boy lived at a group home for the developmentally disabled. Limon's attorneys described their relationship as consensual.

Kline's office described Limon as a predator with two previous such offenses on his record. Kline contended that such a behavior pattern warranted a tough sentence and that courts should leave sentencing policy to the Legislature.

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