|Arizona and a few other states make it a crime for an
unmarried man and woman to cohabit in an intimate relationship. The other states with such
backward laws are New Mexico, Idaho, Florida, Michigan, Mississippi, North Carolina, North
Dakota, Virginia, and West Virginia.
The American Association for Single People believes that such laws are unconstitutional in
violation of the right to privacy. House Bill 2414, by Representative Kathi Foster
(D-Phoenix), just passed the House Judiciary Committee and was sent to the House Human
Services Committee for further review. Some conservative lawmakers, in the name of
religious morality, would like to defeat the bill.
If the Legislature does not repeal this law, the courts should invalidate it. There are
more than 1.2 million unmarried adults in Arizona. Single people have constitutional
rights which the state should respect. The government has no business prying into the
private lives of its citizens.
A member of the American Association for Single People, Debbie Deem, has her own horror
story to tell about the anti-cohabitation laws of Arizona and New Mexico. Several years
ago, she was denied a job opportunity in Arizona because she was cohabiting with her
boyfriend. Debbie decided to leave Arizona. She planned to move to New Mexico, after
reading a book that said New Mexico did not have such a law. When she discovered the book
was wrong, she and her boyfriend moved to California. Their car displayed a bumper sticker
which said: Refugee From Arizona Laws.
Last week, the New Mexico state Senate passed a bill to repeal its anti-cohabitation
statute. Lawmakers there were concerned that the law has been used to the detriment of
unmarried residents. One case involved an ex-spouse who tried to have her former husband
and his new girl friend prosecuted. Antiquated laws, you see, often lend themselves to
harassment and even blackmail.
Besides its effect on employment opportunities, Arizonas anti-cohabitation law has
other harmful effects on single people. For example, federal law says that if a
relationship violates local law (such as the anti-cohabitation statute) then a wage-earner
may not claim their partner as a dependent for income tax purposes. State lawmakers who
vote to keep this law on the books will be taking money from the pockets of some unmarried
residents and putting those dollars into the federal treasury. What a wonderful way for
legislators to represent residents of Arizona.
Anti-cohabitation laws in other states have also been cited by judges as an excuse to deny
fair housing rights to unmarried couples, on the theory that the Legislature could not
have intended to protect people whom it has branded as criminals.
Most people these days cohabit prior to marriage for months, maybe years. It's
wrong when a law brands the majority of the population as criminal. Outmoded statutes
cause people to disrespect the law. With a law like this on the books, no wonder unmarried
citizens may distrust government.
It's time for unmarried adults in Arizona to stand up for their constitutional rights.
Its time for them to speak out and to be heard. Its also time for legislators
to respect the right of privacy of their unmarried constituents.
Thomas F. Coleman, Esq., is executive director of the American
Association for Single People.