Legislators in New Hampshire have voted to repeal a law dating back to 1791 which outlaws adultery. In all around 20 states still have laws which ban married men and women having sex with anyone other than their spouse. Gradually these statutes, many of which dating back to the early days of the United States, are disappearing, but not without a fight. Opponents say that the repeal is further evidence of moral decay in the country. But supporters of the move, which has bipartisan support in New Hampshire, said the reform was long overdue. “The idea that it would stop an affair is delusional,” Tim O’Flaherty, a Democrat member of the New Hampshire House of Representatives, told The Telegraph. “It also treats women as if they were the property of men. It is at least 10 years since it was enforced.” Another complication was that the law was drawn up at a time when the main concern was “spurious issue” – or an illegitimate child. This, Mr O’Flaherty added, meant the law discriminated against heterosexuals who could face prosecution, but not homosexuals in a state where same sex marriage was legalised in January 2010.
The reform had already cleared the state’s lower house and Maggie Hassan, the state’s governor, said she would ratify the change once it passed the state senate. Under the current law offenders face a $1,200 (£714) fine if convicted. In 1791 the punishment was being publicly whipped and paraded in front of the gallows. Although convictions for adultery in the US are rare, they are not unknown. In 1983 police in Massachusetts caught a couple – who were not married to each other – having sex in a van. The woman, who disputed the charge, was fined $50. The punishment could have been far worse, with Massachusetts setting a maximum penalty of three years’s imprisonment for the offence. In other states the provisions on the statute book are even more draconian. Adulterers in Idaho for example could still face a prison term of up to three years if convicted of the offence, while in Wisconsin it is still regarded as a class I felony with a possible six month jail term. The Telegraph