Close in Age Exemptions / Romeo and Juliet Laws

Young Couple

A close in age exemption is a law allowing a young person below the age of consent to have lawful sex with an older partner. However, not every jurisdiction has a close in age exemption - see the list at the end of this post. The area where you live, the ages of both the older and younger party, and other factors have a huge effect on the ramifications of violating the age of consent rule. For example, in an area where the age of consent is set at age seventeen with a close in age exemption of four years, a forty year old man with a fifteen year old girl would be illegal, while that same girl could consent to an individual up to age nineteen.

Protecting Modern-Day Romeos and Juliets

Close in age exemptions are also known as Romeo and Juliet laws. They were created specifically to help to protect young people from the relatively extreme consequences of violating the age of consent law, which could label a young person as a sex offender for the rest of their life simply for having consensual sex with their boyfriend or girlfriend. Romeo and Juliet, arguably the most well known play by William Shakespeare, features a love affair between two teens, aged fourteen and seventeen. In today’s modern society, a relationship like this would most likely violate the age of consent laws. The close in age exemptions we have today allow young lovers to consent to one another without fear of breaking the law, while still keeping harsh restrictions on the age of consent.

A good real-world example of a Romeo and Juliet law is the state of Delaware, in the United States. The age of consent in Delaware is eighteen, and has a close in age exemption. Youths aged sixteen and seventeen are legally considered to be able to consent to an older partner, as long as the individual is under the age of thirty. This means that it would be within the law for a sixteen year old to consent to sexual activity with a twenty-nine year old, but it would be illegal for a fifteen year old to consent to a nineteen year old. In short, close in age exemptions mean that so long as the sexual partners are within a certain number of years apart, sexual contact is not illegal. Sometimes this means that youths below the age of consent may only consent to partners who are less than the allowed number of years older, regardless of whether or not they are above the age of consent.

Other Age Of Consent Exceptions

Another common exemption is the marriage exemption. In some areas, if the partners are married, the younger party may consent only to their spouse. Sometimes the ages of both partners, in addition to the severity of the crime can help determine the severity of the punishment. The severity of the crime can also depend on the position or authority that the older party has over the younger- a teacher, parent, step-parent, guardian, government worker or any other similarly authorized person may mean a more extreme punishment for the offender, and can sometimes causes the age of consent to rise.

What States Have A Close In Age Exemption?

In the United States, just over half of states have some form of close-in-age exemption on the books. These laws vary state-by-state, so be sure to check your state for details.

The following states have a close in age exemption: Alabama, Alaska, Arizona, Arkansas, Colorado, Connecticut, Delaware, District of Columbia, Florida, Hawaii, Indiana, Iowa, Maine, Mississippi, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New Mexico, North Carolina, Ohio, Oklahoma, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, Tennessee, Utah, Vermont, and Virginia.

Elsewhere in the world, other countries have also adopted various types of close in age exemptions. For more details, see age of consent laws around the world.

View state ages of consent View international ages of consent

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