Published 7:23 PM EDT Sep 3, 2020
The claim: California passed ‘pro-pedophilia’ legislation to remove the felony status of sex with minors
Late Monday, just before the legislative session expired, Senate Bill 145 passed the California State Assembly 41-18 and the State Senate 32-10, according to the San Francisco Chronicle.
But posts shared thousands of times claimed that the “pro-pedophilia” legislation had actually passed a day earlier, by a vote of 6-2, and misconstrued its contents.
“It’s a PRO PEDOPHILIA BILL. States NO registration or felony if sex with minor is w/in 10yrs,” one post explains, with the hashtag #SaveOurChildren.
“It states no felony for having sex with a minors,” another post reads.
Fact or fiction: We’re fact checking the news and sending updates to your inbox. Sign up here
The misinformation is the latest in a series of attacks on the legislation and the lawmaker who introduced it – state Sen. Scott Wiener, D-San Fransisco – by right-wing conspiracy theorists known as QAnon.
Their attacks against Wiener included death threats, homophobia and anti-semitism, according to the San Francisco Chronicle.
Users behind the posts did not respond to request for comment from USA TODAY.
Legislation unrelated to whether sex with minors is a misdemeanor, felony
SB-145 will not affect the criminal status of sex between minors and adults.
The age of consent for sexual intercourse in California is 18. Accordingly, any sex act with a person younger than 18 is a crime, though whether it is a misdemeanor or felony depends on the age of the people involved, according to the California Penal Code.
More: What is QAnon, the far-right conspiracy theory causing controversy at the RNC?
More: How QAnon and other dark forces are radicalizing Americans as the COVID-19 pandemic rages and election looms
Samuel Garrett-Pate, a spokesman for Equality California, a nonprofit that co-sponsored the legislation, told USA TODAY the bill is “ending in an inequity, not legalizing anything.”
“What SB-145 does is not legalize any sort of conduct, as those viral posts suggests,” he said.
If signed by Gov. Gavin Newsom in the next month, the bill will become law.
Legislation eliminates an anti-LGBTQ inequality in sex offender registration requirements
SB-145 changes the law to allow judges the same level of discretion over whether certain people must register as sex offenders for consensual anal and oral sex as they already have for consensual penile-vaginal sex.
According to its Senate Floor Analysis, the legislation “exempts a person convicted of nonforcible sodomy with a minor, oral copulation with a minor, or sexual penetration with a minor, as specified, from having to automatically register as a sex offender.”
Though it removes the “automatic” requirement, “a person convicted of one of those specified offenses may still be ordered to register in the discretion of the court.”
It’s also applicable only if the adult was within 10 years of age of the minor at the time the offense, and the minor was at least 14 years old – provisions known in some states as Romeo and Juliet laws.
Before SB-145, an 18-year-old male convicted of having oral or anal sex with a 17-year-old male would be required to register as a sex offender, while a 24-year-old male convicted of having penile-vaginal sex with a 15-year-old female would not be automatically required to register – it would be left up to the judge.
Garrett-Pate said SB-145 creates parity regardless of sexual orientation.
“The current law says that for penile-vaginal sex, it’s up to the judge to determine whether or not that person should be placed on the registry,” he said. “Under current law, however, the judge has no discretion if it’s oral or anal sex. That means that LGBTQ young people end up being treated differently than their non-LGBTQ peers.”
Jackie Lacey, the Los Angeles County district attorney who drafted and co-sponsored the legislation, told USA TODAY the legislation “brings much-needed parity to California’s sexual offender registration law.”
“This bill allows judges and prosecutors to evaluate cases involving consensual sex acts between young people, regardless of their sexual orientation, on an individual basis,” she said in a statement. “I drafted this bill because I believe the law must be applied equally to ensure justice for all Californians.”
Notably, SB-145 does not apply to intercourse of any kind with minors who are younger than 14. In those cases, mandatory sex offender registration is required by law.
Fact check: Oprah Winfrey’s comment on sexual abuse and grooming taken out of context
Legislation intended to improve sex offender database, end discrimination
Rather than enabling pedophilia, as the posts suggest, advocates say SB-145 will improve the sex offender registry.
That’s why it had the support of the California Coalition Against Sexual Assault, the California Police Chiefs Association, the California Attorneys for Criminal Justice, the Crime Victims Action Alliance and Children Now, among others.
“The sex offender registry being a tool for crime solving in the future is only effective if the people on it are actually a threat to or a danger to their community,” Garrett-Pate said.
“It strengthens the registry by making sure that it’s usable because the people on it are actually people who are a threat to society, not a high school student who made a mistake,” he added.
The state’s sex offender database has more than 100,000 registered sex offenders, which law enforcement agencies have said is too large to fulfill its purpose of tracking potential predators, according to the San Fransisco Chronicle.
SB-145 also ends discrimination that Garrett-Pate said was written into law because of outdated bans on sodomy, which were repealed in California in the 1970s and nationwide in 2004.
Wiener told USA TODAY that SB-145 is “a basic equity law.”
“Despite massive, disgusting misinformation from the QAnon cult – including extreme death threats against me – we were able to pass SB-145, because it’s the right thing to do,” he said in a statement. “I’m grateful that my colleagues saw through the lies and understood that LGBTQ young people are having their lives destroyed simply for having consensual sex. We need to stop criminalizing our youth and stop treating LGBTQ youth more harshly than straight youth.”
Fact check: Barack Obama did not spend $65K on prostitutes, code-named ‘pizza’ and ‘hotdogs’
Our rating: False
Based on our research, viral claims about SB-145 as “pro-pedophilia” legislation are FALSE. From its passage and vote count to its contents, posts online have spread falsehoods about the legislation, which allows judges to have the same level of discretion over sex offender registration for anal and oral sex that they already do for penile-vaginal sex. It is intended to strengthen the sex offender registry and end discrimination against LGBTQ youth. SB-145 does not apply to intercourse of any kind with minors who are younger than 14. In those cases, mandatory sex offender registration is required by law. It’s also applicable only if the adult was within 10 years of age of the minor at the time the offense.
Our fact-check sources:
- San Francisco Chronicle, Aug. 31, California bill eliminating sex offender list inequity toward LGBTQ people passes
- San Francisco Chronicle, Aug. 13, Scott Wiener tries to salvage bill fixing sex-offender list’s inequity toward gay people
- California Penal Code, Part 1, Title 9, Chapter 1, Section 261.5
- California Legislative Information, SB-145 Sex offenders: registration
- Interview with Samuel Garrett-Pate, spokesperson for Equality California
- Statement from Jackie Lacey, Los Angeles County district attorney
- Statement from California State Sen. Scott Wiener, D-San Francisco
- Associated Press, Sept. 2, Bill would not legalize pedophilia in California
Thank you for supporting our journalism. You can subscribe to our print edition, ad-free app or electronic newspaper replica here.
Our fact check work is supported in part by a grant from Facebook.