Moral Low Ground

US Government

Virginia Legislature Votes to End Criminalization of ‘Living in Sin’; Many Republicans Object

It went largely unnoticed last week when Virginia lawmakers voted to repeal a 19th century law banning cohabitation and sexual relations between unmarried adults.

But the real headline here is how 25 legislators– 21 Republicans, 3 Democrats and 1 independent– voted against the repeal.

SB 969, often referred to as the ‘love shack bill,’ eliminates the crime of “lewd and lascivious cohabitation.” It passed by a vote of 62-25, with 13 abstentions. Under the old law, which was passed in 1877:

“If any persons not married to each other lewd and lasciviously associate and cohabit together, or, whether married or not, be guilty of open and gross lewdness or lasciviousness, each of them shall be guilty of a Class 3 misdemeanor, and upon a repetition of the offense, and conviction thereof, each of them shall be guilty of a Class 1 misdemeanor.”

According to Metro Weekly, such a ‘crime’ carried a punishment of a $500 fine for the first offense and up to a year in jail and/or a $2,500 fine for the second offense.

The part about “open and gross lewdness”– basically, sex in public– will stand.

The law was rarely enforced in modern times, although according to the Washington Post, it was invoked as recently as the 1990s to threaten the revocation of a daycare provider’s license because she was living with her boyfriend.

“It’s an 1877 law. I think it’s time to revise that,” 73-year-old Darlene K. Davis of Norfolk, the daycare provider who nearly lost her license two decades ago, told the Post.

SB 969 was co-sponsored by a pair of Democrats representing Washington, DC suburbs, Sen. Adam Ebbin (Alexandria) and Del. Scott Surovell (Fairfax).

“I learned of [the cohabitation ban] last year and thought that it was not only unnecessary but bizarre that Virginia would still have on its book a law outlawing consenting adults from living together,” Ebbin told the Post. “It’s obviously an outdated vestige from a very different time.”

But clearly, many Virginia lawmakers did not agree. So, who are the 25 elected officials who voted to keep ‘living in sin’ a criminal offense in 2013? Here’s a full list:

DEMOCRATS: Del. Johnny S. Joannu; Del. Joseph P. Johnson, Jr.; Del. Lionell Spruill, Sr.

INDEPENDENT: Del. Lacey E. Putney

REPUBLICANS: Del. Richard P. Bell; Del. Robert B. Bell; Del. Ben Cline; Del. Mark L. Cole; Del. James E. Edmunds II; Del. T. Scott Garrett; Del. Todd Gilbert; Del. Christopher T. Head; Del. Gordon C. Helsel, Jr.; Del. R. Steven Landes; Del. Daniel W. Marshall; Del. Robert G. Marshall; Del. J. Randall Minchew; Del. Brenda L. Pogge; Del. Charles D. Poindexter; Del. David I. Ramadan; Del. Margaret B. Ransone; Del. Beverly J. Sherwood; Del. R. Lee Ware, Jr.; Del. Tony O. Wilt; Del. Thomas C. Wright, Jr.

If you think that Virginia is the last state to ban ‘living in sin,’ think again– Florida, Michigan and Mississippi still have anti-cohabitation statutes on the books.

The bill now heads to the desk of Republican Governor Bob McDonnell, who says he supports ending the cohabitation ban.

The Virginia vote came during the same week that Mississippi officially ratified the 13th Amendment to the US Constitution, officially ending slavery in the state 147 years after the measure became the law of the land.

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  1. wildFebruary 26, 2013 at 1:10 pmReply

    Ok I’ll put in my two cents on this subject:

    So just to be clear…the only legal way to cohabit, in light of the existing law, the intended effect was to demand and purchase the state sanctioned marriage license, enforced by this law.

    Of which required a marriage license, therein is the single reason for the law, simply ‘to sell more state issued licenses’ for cohabit citizens to remain in good standing. This law has been quite the little money maker thru the years I mean, have you ever heard of a free marriage license?

    Of course not.

    The steep penalty has always been such that financially it was cheaper to go along with the state sponsored extortion, than to be subject to the penalty, as it is unto this day. The penalty was the strength of the extortion, but there is also a mirrored extortion linked to the license, that of divorce.

    Have you ever heard of a free legal divorce. Of course not.

    The divorce & the finances of it, lend additional pain to 2 souls that have already been extorted from via the marriage license, and the implied additional extortion by the state thru the divorce proceeding is at best: the most Republican thing you can do.

    Just imagine a law wallowed in greed, guilt, suspicion, backbiting and possibly the worst violation of a beautiful couple: to forsake their own right & authority, not withstanding a happy tradition of asking the bride’s family was always a cordial tradition, taken to a ridiculous decree by the state to be recorded, pay a license fee to the county clerk, and ask for permission to be married by the local judge.

    What business is it of the state, of whom I marry, except for the sake of extortion.


    • Brett WilkinsFebruary 26, 2013 at 3:18 pmReplyAuthor

      Thanks for that thoughtful insight, wild!

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