Michael M. v. Superior Court of Sonoma County, 450 U.S. 464; 101 S. Ct. 1200; 67 L. Ed. 2d 437 (1981)

Facts—Michael M., a seventeen-year-old male, was charged with violating California’s statutory rape law. The complaint, filed on behalf of the victim by her older sister, stated that on June 3, 1978, petitioner and Sharon, the alleged sixteen-year-old victim, met at a bus stop and soon moved away from their friends and began to kiss. Petitioner then made more sexual advances for which he was rebuffed. After being struck in the face, Sharon submitted to sexual intercourse. California’s statutory rape law defines unlawful sexual intercourse as “an act of sexual intercourse accomplished with a female not the wife of the perpetrator, where the female is under the age of 18 years.”

Question—Does California’s gender-based statutory rape law violate the equal protection clause of the Fourteenth Amendment?


ReasonsC.J. Rehnquist (5–4). “We hold that the Equal Protection Clause does not demand that a statute necessarily apply equally to all persons or

. . . things which are different in fact . . . to be treated as though they were the same.        We need not be medical doctors to discern that young men

and women are not similarly situated with respect to the problems and risks of sexual intercourse. . . . All of the significant harmful and inescapably identifiable consequences of teenage pregnancy fall on the young female

. . . pregnancy itself constitutes a substantial deterrence to young females. . . .

A criminal sanction imposed solely on males thus serves roughly to equalize the deterrents on the sexes.”

J. Brennan and J. Stevens authored dissents. They argued that gender- neutral laws prohibiting sex with minors could be just as effective as gender- specific laws and might even prove to be a greater deterrent to undesired sexual conduct.

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