Does the ‘Romeo & Juliet’ Defense Apply to Same-Sex Couples in Texas?

Does the ‘Romeo & Juliet’ Defense Apply to Same-Sex Couples in Texas?

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Texas has laws that protect children and youth from being sexually exploited and abused by adults. One such law is Texas Penal Code § 21.11 Indecency with a Child, which prohibits adults from engaging in certain forms of sexual contact — including consensual acts — with minors under the age of 17. 

This law effectively makes the age of consent 17, but where does that leave older teenagers who have consensual relationships with their younger peers? Many states, including Texas, have close-in-age clauses, which are informally called a “Romeo & Juliet clause” or a “Romeo & Juliet defense.” These clauses allow teenagers to legally date and have relationships with one another. 

However, as it is currently written, the “Romeo & Juliet” clause in Texas does not provide equal protection to same-sex teenage couples. Learn more about how this outdated law affects gay and bisexual youth.

LGBT Youth and ‘Romeo & Juliet’ Defense in Texas

According to § 21.11 Indecency with a Child, it is an affirmative defense if “the actor . . . was not more than three years older than the victim and of the opposite sex.” This law acknowledges something that has been happening since the beginning of time — that teenagers have sexual relationships with their peers. 

However, note that this clause only offers protection if the two parties are “of the opposite sex.” Unfortunately, this law discriminates against LGBT youth by criminalizing activity that is completely legal between opposite-sex youth.

If you’re facing accusations of Indecency with a Child, or the parent of a teenager who is, you likely have many questions. Below is an overview of these charges, the potential penalties for a conviction, and legal defenses against these charges. This information is not a substitute for talking with an experienced criminal defense attorney about the particulars of your case.

What Is Considered ‘Indecency with a Child’ in Texas?

According to § 21.11 Indecency with a Child, “sexual conduct” includes these activities, “if committed with the intent to arouse or gratify the sexual desire of any person”: 

  • Touching an individual’s breast, anus, or genitals, even through clothing 
  • Exposing one’s own genitals or anus, or the genitals or anus of another person

Many people may be surprised to learn that Indecency with a Child does not include acts of penetration, yet it is still a felony charge.

Penalties for Indecency with a Child in Texas

The penalties for Indecency with a Child are serious. This charge is a second or third degree felony, depending on the nature of the alleged acts. Direct physical contact is a second degree felony, while exposure is a third degree felony.

  • According to §12.33, the penalties for a second degree felony conviction are incarceration between 2 and 20 years and a fine of up to $10,000.
  • According to §12.34, the penalties for a third degree felony conviction are incarceration between 2 and 10 years and a fine of up to $10,000.

A felony sex crime conviction has other potential consequences, including a damaged reputation, being prohibited from working in certain occupations, having to register as a sex offender, and difficulty finding a home to rent.

Legal Defenses for Indecency with a Child Charges in TX

There are affirmative defenses for Indecency with a Child in Texas. 

‘Romeo & Juliet’ Defense

As mentioned above, the ‘Romeo & Juliet’ defense may be used for opposite-sex couples when there is an age difference of 3 years or less. For this affirmative defense to apply:

  • The relationship must have been consensual. The actor “did not use duress, force, or a threat.”
  • The actor was not required “to register for life as a sex offender” and the actor did not already have a “reportable conviction or adjudication” for certain crimes.

However, you cannot use a ‘Romeo & Juliet” defense if you merely thought or were led to believe that there was an age difference of 3 years or less. In other words, not knowing someone’s true age — even if they lied to you — is not an affirmative defense.


An individual cannot be charged with Indecency with a Child for having consensual sexual contact with their own spouse.

Not Guilty

False accusations can and do happen. Emotions can often run high when it comes to romantic matters. An angry parent may concoct a false narrative, in an effort to separate their child from a romantic interest they don’t like. Or, the youth themselves may give a false account of the relationship as a revenge tactic after a break-up or falling out. 

Tough Charges Need a Tough Attorney

Attorney Kent Starr defends clients who face serious criminal charges like Indecency with a Child. He treats his clients with the respect and dignity they deserve, regardless of their sexual orientation or gender expression. Attorney Kent Starr pursues the best possible outcome for all of his clients facing Indecency with a Child charges — including those who are not protected by the “Romeo & Juliet” clause, simply because they are gay or bisexual. 

And Attorney Starr is not just a criminal defense attorney — he’s a criminal defense attorney with trial experience. Some lawyers push their clients to accept a plea bargain, simply because they’re intimidated by the prosecution team, inexperienced, or just plain unmotivated. They do this even when a plea bargain may not be in their client’s best interest.

Attorney Starr, on the other hand, is not afraid to take your case before a judge or jury if it could be in your best interest. In fact, he can go over the outcomes for clients he’s represented who had charges similar to yours. This information is all a matter of public record that Attorney Starr is happy to share.

Contact a Plano Criminal Defense Attorney Today

In addition to being a tenacious criminal defense attorney, Attorney Kent Starr is also a bail bonds attorney. With one phone call to Starr Law, P.C., you can secure your freedom and start your legal defense. Contact us today to schedule your free, confidential consultation.


Texas  Penal Code § 21.11 Indecency with a Child and Chapter 12. Punishments

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