|The North Dakota Legislature
gave final approval last week to a bill that would repeal a law
criminalizing cohabitation by unmarried couples of the opposite
A spokesperson for Governor John
Hoeven said he will sign the bill when it reaches his desk.
When that happens, the list of states which invade the sexual
privacy of consenting adults will be reduced by one.
Six states besides North Dakota
currently make unmarried cohabitation a crime. They
include Florida, Michigan, Mississippi, North Carolina,
Virginia, and West Virginia.
Seven states make it a
crime for an unmarried man and woman to engage in consensual intercourse
in private. Idaho, Massachusetts, Minnesota, South
Carolina, Utah, Virginia, and West Virginia, fall into this
In the District
of Columbia, homosexual sex is legal but heterosexual
intercourse remains a crime.
A decision by
the United States Supreme Court in 2003 has placed a cloud of
unconstitutionality over all of these privacy-invading criminal
statutes. In striking down a Texas sodomy law, the court
declared that states must give unmarried persons the same
respect for privacy as they do to married couples.
pronouncement from the nation's highest court, legislatures in
states with laws against fornication or cohabitation have been
reluctant to repeal them. For example, attempts to get rid
of the North Dakota law failed in the previous two legislative
The 2000 Census
reported that nearly 22,000 residents of North Dakota were
living with an unmarried partner.
think it's any of my business whether my neighbors have a
marriage certificate or not," Senator Tracy Potter, sponsor
of the repeal bill, told the Bismarck Tribune. "I
certainly don't think the government has any role in regulating
that type of morality."
who opposed the repeal said it was the state's duty to set high
moral standards. They claimed that since these laws are
not enforced, it is a matter of symbolism.
residents of North Dakota and other states which criminalize
consenting adult behavior would have reason to dispute the
notion that such laws are purely symbolic.
example was recalled by Representative Louise Potter in an
interview she had with the Associated Press. Potter
remembered when her
elderly mother-in-law and a
longtime partner wanted to move from Florida to a senior home in
Grand Forks, North Dakota a few years ago. They were not allowed
to move in because they weren't married, Potter said.
Anti-cohabitation laws have been used as an excuse to
discriminate against unmarried Americans in other situations as
court in Michigan once referred to that state's cohabitation
crime as a reason to deny fair housing rights to unmarried
couples. Another Michigan court made reference to the same
statute in a decision forbidding the unmarried partner of a
single dad from staying overnight when his kids from a previous
marriage were present in the home.
ago, when cohabitation was a crime in New Mexico, a judge denied
bail to a misdemeanor defendant because he intended to live with
his girlfriend upon release. Law enforcement jobs were
denied to people in Arizona who were cohabiting.
Arizona and New Mexico voted to decriminalize cohabitation in
felt the sting of Virginia's anti-cohabitation law about six
years ago when the state threatened to revoke her day care
license. Davis, then 61, had been caring for children in
her home for 16 years and had rave reviews from the parents who
had hired her.
ACLU threatened to file a lawsuit, the state backed down and
Davis was allowed to keep her license.
years, North Carolina refused to give women financial assistance
from the state's victim compensation fund if they were battered
by a live-in boyfriend. Why? Because the women were
taxpayers have also felt the brunt of these criminal statutes.
Federal law prohibits a taxpayer from claiming someone as a
dependent if the relationship between the taxpayer and dependent
violates local law.
that the remaining states on the privacy invader list notice
what North Dakota has done. With a little push from civil
liberties groups, it shouldn't be long until all states respect
the privacy rights of consenting adults.
Unmarried America 2007
Thomas F. Coleman, Executive Director of Unmarried America, is an
attorney with 33 years of experience in singles' rights, family
diversity, domestic partner benefits, and marital status discrimination.
Each week he adds a new commentary to Column One: Eye on Unmarried
firstname.lastname@example.org. Unmarried America is a nonprofit
information service for unmarried employees, consumers, taxpayers, and