MOTHERS AND FATHERS of Washington lock up your daughters, the City Council is loose. Take your daughters and hide them in a closet or send them to relatives who live elsewhere, because the wild-eyed, radical, crazy, over-sexed, permissive, salacious, bewitched, bothered and bewildered City Council is about to legalize sex between teen-age girls and all manner of other things, including, (ugh! gross!) teen-age boys. Run for your lives!
Lookie here, parents of Washington, this seems to be the case. From what I have been reading in the newspapers, from the screaming headlines and the quick, almost automatic opposition of the mayor to this bill, you would think that the City Council is not merely decriminalizing sex between consenting teen-agers, but permitting it, condoning it, encouraging it. Of course, up to now, there has been none.
My God, have you ever seen such a production? This bill, we are told, would lead to the legalization of incest. Incest! Right here in River City. And it will lead to a general moral decay, salaciousness, soul kissing and the rest. You would thing that the council is putting Spanish fly in the drinking water and that this was not the very same city council that has a minister as a member and that is about to pass a bill that already is law in 26 states and if defeated would leave Washington with a higher consent age (16) for teen-age sex than Virginia (15). Virginia? Yes, Virginia, Virginia.
But the point is not what Virginia does, but what teen-agers do. If there is anyone out there who thinks that tonight Teen-age Johnny will cease and desist in his attempts to seduce Teen-age Jane because there is a law on the books saying it is a crime, I will buy him or her lunch -- after first insisting on a sanity test.
Similarly, if anyone out there thinks that if the proposed law is passed, the city's teen-agers will hustle down to the District Building, check the old municipal code, see that sex between consenting teen-agers has now been decriminalized and then do it for that reason, they can have the lunch that no one from the other group could claim.
In a sense, then, this debate is about nothing. It is certainly not about teen-age sex which will persist no matter what the City Council or even the mayor does. But if it is about anything at all, it is about coming to terms with reality. The present law, while apparently comforting, is an absurdity. It makes sex between teen-agers a crime when both you and I know that it is not really a crime. It may be a problem or it may be a tragedy or it may be nothing at all, but it is not a crime.
It is for this reason that the present law is almost never applied. If it were, if teen-age boys were charged with statutory rape every time they had sex with a girl 16 or under, we would have to build jails from here to Richmond. To have laws on the books that are almost never used is a dangerous business -- one that leads to the law being applied selectively, sometimes for political purposes. A law ought to do what it sets out to do or not be on the books.
In general, the bill decriminalizes sex between consenting children 12 years of age and older -- as long as one is not more than four years older than the other. So we are not talking about 19-year-old men and 14-year-old girls, but about kids who are mostly around the same age. The bill would mean, for instance, that if a 16-year-old boy had sex with a 15-year-old girl, it no longer would be a crime. It would not be the government's business. It would be the business of the children, their parents, their churches and maybe their schools, but not of the police. Even if two 12-year-olds have sex, it is not a crime. It is awful, but who would you arrest? The boy? The girl? Both? How about the parents?
All this is not to say that the proposed law is perfect. No bill and no law is and in this case maybe 12 as an age of consent too low. But the opposition here is not based on imperfections, but on some sort of emotional feeling that simply by coming to terms with reality, by cleaning up the criminal code when it comes to children and sex, somehow it will exacerbate the problem. The bill is a somber and cautious attempt to deal with the problems that result when children act as adults. The controversy, however, is a different matter all together. It results from adults acting like children.