Massachusetts Pro-Family Group Concerned Over Proposal to Alter Ages of Sexual Consent

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BOSTON — One of the state’s leading conservative pro-family groups is crying foul over a section of a massive bill aimed at overhauling Massachusetts’ criminal justice system, a provision that would dramatically alter sexual consent ages.

The current statute mandates prison sentences for those who “unlawfully have sexual intercourse or unnatural sexual intercourse, and abuses a child under 16 years of age.” Individuals prosecuted under this statute currently face sentences of up to life in prison.

Proposed changes, outlined in a massive 114-page omnibus criminal justice reform bill introduced by Senate Democrats serving on the Joint Judiciary Committee, would enact a pseudo-sliding scale of ages. For example, individuals engaging in sexual intercourse with minors under the age of 16 would be exempt from prosecution if they are less than four years older:


Andrew Beckwith, president of the Massachusetts Family Institute, said in an email that the proposal would “undermine statutory rape laws.”

“The current law creates a bright line rule to protect younger children from sexual abuse and exploitation by requiring a minimum age of 16 before they are assumed capable of giving consent,” Beckwith wrote. “No parent should want this law changed.

“Doing so is effectively encouraging teens and preteens to engage in sexual activity.”

Beckwith added that “common sense tells us that children do not have the judgment of adults” and cited standing laws related to drinking, driving, smoking, and voting.

“A fifteen-year-old child having sex with a nineteen-year-old, which this proposed law would allow, can be sexually exploited just as easily, if not more so, than they could by a 35-year-old,” Beckwith said. “If this bill is passed, that same fifteen-year-old would be allowed to turn around and have sex with a twelve-year-old, sharing the behaviors and perhaps diseases picked up from the nineteen-year-old.  

“Underage sexual activity amongst teens has been linked to a dramatic increase in depression, anxiety, and sexually-transmitted diseases. We should be encouraging sexual risk avoidance for our young children, not normalizing high school juniors having sex with middle-schoolers.”

Senate President Stanley Rosenberg (D-Amherst) told the State House News Service last Friday that he expects floor debate on the bill to commence at some point this month, potentially by Friday, October 13. Governor Charlie Baker has introduced his own criminal justice reform bill, which does not seek to alter the ages of sexual consent.

The House version of the bill mimics Baker’s proposal. It likewise does not contain new provisions relative to ages of sexual consent.

Earlier this week, House Speaker Robert DeLeo (D-Winthrop) announced he has brought in former Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court Chief Justice Roderick Ireland to serve as an unpaid advisor on all criminal justice reform issues.

Ireland previously worked with DeLeo in 2011 on court reorganization legislation. Ireland in 2003 was one of four justices who voted to legalize same-sex marriages, helping to secure a 4-3 majority, in the landmark Goodrich v. Department of Public Health decision.

Ireland once served in Boston Juvenile Court from 1977 until 1990, following an appointment from then-Governor Michael Dukakis.