Old state laws forbid fornication and adultery

A recent Boston Globe article about antiquated Massachusetts state laws has some interesting historical tidbits about laws that have long since been abandoned but still remain on the books. But it turns out these so-called antiquated laws could in fact have serious implications in many people’s lives, and a growing number of lawmakers are now considering how to address the issue.

Perhaps no other area of modern life has the potential to be affected by antiquated laws than the area of family law. Massachusetts has laws on the book forbidding fornication, which is defined as two people having sex out of wedlock, from all the way back in 1692. Adultery is still illegal as well, thanks to a law that passed in 1762 but hasn’t been prosecuted in many, many years.

But are these relics of yesteryear or still the law of the land? One such antiquated law from 1913 reared its head after being dormant for decades when Massachusetts enacted same-sex marriage rights in 2004. The law apparently said nonresidents could not marry in Massachusetts if the marriage wasn’t considered legal in their home states. While the law was later repealed in 2008, it had a very meaningful impact on state policy during the infancy of same-sex marriage legality.

If prosecutorial discretion were abandoned, there is nothing stopping a person from going to jail for adultery. For someone going through a divorce because of infidelity, it could mean a prosecution for adultery, which could mean a prison term of up to three years according to state law. Conviction could have implications in terms of child custody.

The state legislature may soon take up the issue of antiquated laws, which would clear up some gray areas for a lot of citizens who may be breaking the laws of yesteryear without even knowing it. In the meantime, an experienced family law attorney can help individuals navigate through these laws.

Source: The Boston Globe, “Antiquated state laws stir up modern-day worry,” Andrew Carden and Kristen Lee, Jan. 3, 2013


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