Wednesday, November 6, 2013

Adultery Laws: Takes Two to Tango?

My mother always liked to comment on infidelity by pointing out that it "takes two to tango" and thus assign fault to both partners in an affair.  Do the country's most defunct adultery laws though take the same path and punish both partners in an extramarital affair equally?  The answer is:  it depends...depended...upon the state.

A plurality (orange/tan states) of those states with adultery laws in 1996 punished only the married partner.  Many of these states did not criminalize adultery per se but allowed adultery to be used as grounds for a divorce.  Another large chunk of states (green states) have statutes punishing both partners.  Delaware, Minnesota and the District of Columbia stand out as unusual exceptions.

  • Delaware's statute is written almost as if the writers did not envision a woman having an affair.  This state's law speaks only to punishing a cheating husband.
  • DC's statute punishes both the man and woman if both are married.  If the woman is married and the man is not, both are again punished.  BUT, if the woman is unmarried and the man is married, then only the man is punished.
  • Minnesota's statute is almost the reverse of DC's law. If you are a married MN man and cheat with a married woman:  punished!  If you are a married MN woman and cheat with an unmarried man:  punished!  But if you are a philandering married MN man who cavorts with an unmarried woman:  not a crime!

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