California Governor Jerry Brown signed a bill on Friday lowering the crime from a felony to a misdemeanor for knowingly exposing a sexual partner to HIV without first disclosing one’s status.
State Senator Scott Wiener of San Francisco and Assemblymember Todd Gloria of San Diego, both Democrats, authored the bill, known as SB (Senate Bill) 239.
The two argued that drugs like PrEP and PEP allow people with HIV to live longer, healthier lives. Those drugs also virtually eliminate the possibility of HIV transmission during sex.
‘Today California took a major step toward treating HIV as a public health issue, instead of treating people living with HIV as criminals,’ Wiener said in a statement. ‘HIV should be treated like all other serious infectious diseases, and that’s what SB 239 does.’
The Los Angeles Times noted that HIV was the only communicable disease for which exposure was a felony under state law. Consequently, HIV activists argued that some people resisted getting tested for HIV.
‘State law will no longer discourage Californians from getting tested for HIV,’ Gloria in a statement. ‘With the Governor’s signature today, we are helping to reduce the stigma that keeps some from learning their HIV status and getting into treatment to improve their health, extend their lives, and prevent additional infections.’
Criminalization of HIV
Laws punishing people with HIV began in the 1980s during the height of the AIDS epidemic when fear about transmission was rampant and no drugs were available to treat HIV.
A 2011 analysis by the Centers for Disease Control and Department of Justice found that 33 states had a total of 67 laws ‘explicitly focused on persons living with HIV.’
In 24 states, laws require people who are aware that they have HIV to disclose their status to sexual partners and 14 states require disclosure to needle-sharing partners. Additionally, 25 states criminalize one or more behaviors that pose a low or negligible risk for HIV transmission.
The American Medical Association and the Infectious Diseases Society of America have both publicly condemned laws criminalizing HIV.
Rick Zbur, the executive director of Equality California, said in a statement SB 239 is not only fair, it is also good for public health.
‘With his signature, Governor Brown has moved California’s archaic HIV laws out of the 1980s and into the 21st century,’ said Zbur. ‘SB 239 will do much to reduce stigma and discrimination against people living with HIV.
‘When people are no longer penalized for knowing their status,’ Zbur continued, ‘it encourages them to come forward, get tested and get treatment. That’s good for all Californians.’