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Sunday, July 14, 2024

State Lawmakers Working to Repeal Law Against Adultery

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By:  Serach Nissim

Since 1907, adultery has not only been a sin but also a crime in the state of New York.

As reported by the NY Times, this may change if lawmakers are successful.  Despite the budget deadline looming,  lawmakers at the New York State Capitol are busy working to repeal the law against adultery. The seldom-enforced state law has been challenged before but without success.  This time, a bill has been introduced in the state assembly, with a good chance of passing.

Sponsored by Charles Lavine, a Democrat from Long Island, the bill to repeal the law against adultery set forth in March, has already garnered overwhelming votes in the Assembly.  “Any criminal law that penalizes intimate behavior between consenting adults does not deserve to be on the books,” said Mr. Lavine, who noted that he personally has been “happily married” for 54 years.

The law is “a joke. This law was someone’s expression of moral outrage,” added Lavine.

Currently, adultery in NY is classified as a Class B misdemeanor, and it is punishable by up to 90 days in jail and a $500 fine. While adultery is still a felony offense in a handful of states, including Oklahoma, Michigan and Wisconsin, it has already been repealed years ago in most states. Per the Times, in NY, lawmakers have tried to repeal the law against adultery since at least 1964, when a legislative commission found enforcement of the ban to be virtually impossible and “a matter of private morality, not of law.”  Still, the law stayed put, and some 13 people have been charged with this crime in NY since 1972, said  Mr. Lavine.

The law, which should technically apply to everyone equally, has been used to unfairly target women and  L.G.B.T.Q. people, said Jill Hasday, a professor at the University of Minnesota Law School.  Women also tend to face harsher social consequences than men for the crime.  “We are all in danger of losing our rights,” Mr. Lavine said. “Those most likely to be prosecuted for this crime, not only in New York, but throughout the United States and even worldwide, are women. I think it’s time for our state legislatures throughout the United States to stand up for human rights. And women’s rights are human rights.”

Some also argue that the ban on adultery is unconstitutional based on the Supreme court’s 2003 ruling in Lawrence v. Texas. That decision had struck down a law which criminalized sodomy and ruled that Americans had a constitutional right to privacy.

Per the NY Times, relative to California and some other states, NY is far behind in repealing older laws regulating marriage and fidelity. It wasn’t till 2021 that NY officially banned child marriages, officially raising the legal age to 18 for marriage. In 2010, NY was the last state to adopt no-fault divorce — allowing couples to dissolve marriages without proof of adultery, cruelty, imprisonment or abandonment — some 40 years after California became the first to adopt it.

Mr. Lavine said most of the pushback he has garnered for sponsoring the Assembly bill repealing  the law against adultery has stemmed from a few “religious nuts.”  “This is not the first time that I will have been called a heretic,” he said, laughing.

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