If you and your non-spousal significant other wish to engage in some hanky panky in Utah this week, great news. You will no longer be in danger of being jailed for up to six months and hit with a hefty fine. The governor has just signed a bill into law that decriminalizes sex outside the institution of marriage. If you’re scratching your head over that one, we’ll clarify in a moment. First, a few details from Time Magazine.
Utah Gov. Gary Herbert has signed a bill that decriminalizes sex outside of marriage in the state. Herbert signed Senate Bill 43 into law on Wednesday, the governor’s office confirmed to TIME.
“Fornication,” which is sex outside of marriage, was classified as a class B misdemeanor and punishable by up to six months in jail, according to a 1973 Utah state law.
The bill includes a repeal of the offense of fornication and was sponsored by state Senate Minority Leader Karen Mayne.
In addition to “fornication” no longer being a crime, the Governor additionally decriminalized adultery and sodomy between consenting adults in a separate bill. So I guess it’s party time in the Beehive State.
You might be thinking (as I was) that these are just some of those ancient relics in the legal code that are being cleaned up in a symbolic action, but that’s not quite true. While it didn’t seem likely and I had to do a bit of digging to find it, there were still some people being prosecuted under these laws until fairly recently. A report from the Salt Lake City Weekly back in 2010 dug up some of the history of this subject for us.
In the late 90s, a man and woman reportedly had “vaginal and anal intercourse” following a date one night. The next day they argued about the sodomy portion of the evening. In what must have been a bizarre scene, despite fighting over it, the woman wanted to drop the matter but the guy broke into a pet store (?!) and used their phone to call the police, demanding to be arrested. The police complied and he was eventually acquitted of the more serious charges of rape and forced sodomy but was convicted of the misdemeanor charges of fornication and sodomy.
Adultery and bigamy are another matter. There have plenty of bigamy charges coming out of some of the religious compounds, but even adultery can land you in hot water. In 1996, one man took another individual to court after that person fathered twins with the man’s wife in an adulterous affair. The adulterer never went to jail, but was tied up in the courts for nearly a decade costing him tens of thousands of dollars in legal fees and the courts definitely took it seriously.
There was a time when every state in the nation had laws like these and many of them were used to prosecute gays and lesbians. These days, the majority of states have taken them off the books. The beneficial nature of these changes is left to the eye of the beholder.