Florida is finally repealing a very, very antiquated law that hundreds of thousands of its residents are breaking on a daily basis. Florida is repealing legislation that forbids unwed cohabitation, which stems from a 1868 law that makes living together before getting married a misdemeanor. For years, the law has been swept under the rug, with lawmakers neither pursuing it nor pushing for its repeal, until now. On Tuesday, Florida Senator Eleanor Sobel finally took action to scrap the outdated law, proposing the repeal before the Senate Judiciary Committee, who more or less shrugged and said, "Obviously."
Sen. Sobel told the committee on Tuesday, "The times have changed." Considering she means not the last decade or even the last century, but the last 150 years, that might be a bit of an understatement. To underscore how outdated the law is, Sobel described just how irrelevant the law is to modern life:
Currently, over a half-million couples in Florida are breaking this law. The government should not intrude into the private lives of consenting adults.
Likely without a second thought, the committee voted unanimously for Sobel's repeal. Originally written in 1868 (as in before the light bulb was patented), the law made "lewd and lascivious behavior" a second-degree misdemeanor punishable by 60 days in jail and a $500 fine. In 147 years, that never changed.
Though Florida's police officers haven't been going from house to house and knocking on doors to arrest unmarried couples shacking up together, the law has legally impacted residents in the Sunshine State.
In 2011, WCTV reported that 700 people had been charged for breaking the cohabitation law since 2006, though it's unclear how many were convicted and what happened to them. At the time, Florida Representative Rich Workman filed legislation to repeal the law, but to no avail. "A little piece of your liberty, a little piece of your freedom is stolen," Workman told WCTV, "with all these laws that try to dictate lifestyle and are not necessarily enforced."
The repeal failed then, in part because it wasn't "an issue the governor is focused on," according to a spokesperson for Gov. Rick Scott, and partly because the law was supported by conservatives grasping at "family values" in a rapidly evolving society. Republican State Rep. Dennis Baxley told the Sun Sentinel in 2011:
I'm not ready to give up on monogamy and a cultural statement that marriage still matters.
Luckily for the half-million couples in Florida, the repeal bill is now headed to the Senate floor for voting in May. Two other states have similar laws in place today — Michigan and Mississippi — while more than 7.5 million unmarried couples live together in the U.S., according to the 2010 Census. Images: Getty Images (2)