Cohabitation ban headed to history books

It soon could be safe to shack up in Florida.

The state House on Wednesday approved repealing a law dating to 1868 that makes it a crime for men and women to live together if they are not married.

With the Senate passing the bill (SB 498) last week, the measure is ready to go to Gov. Rick Scott. The House approved the bill in a 112-5 vote, with five Republicans – Janet Adkins of Fernandina Beach, Brad Drake of Eucheeanna, Mike Hill of Pensacola Beach, Jennifer Sullivan of Mount Dora and Charles Van Zant of Keystone Heights – dissenting.

"When you take a look at the state of Florida, and the nation in general, as to how many people live together while not married, to have a law on the books that says it's illegal just doesn't make good sense," said Rep. Richard Stark, a Weston Democrat who is one of the sponsors of the repeal.

Stark said the issue affects seniors, as well as younger singles.

"I represent communities of seniors, where a lot of them are technically not married,'' he said. "They are living together, but it makes more sense financially or for whatever reason like Social Security to not be married. I don't think that they want to be considered to be violating the law."

House and Senate staff analyses said the law originally went into effect in 1868 and makes it a second-degree misdemeanor for men and women to "lewdly and lasciviously associate and cohabit together" without being married.

The analyses said Florida, Michigan and Mississippi are the only states that make cohabitation illegal. Seven other states – Arizona, Idaho, Maine, New Mexico, North Dakota, Virginia, and West Virginia – have repealed similar laws in recent years, while a court struck down a North Carolina law, the House analysis said.

Such laws have rarely been used to bring criminal charges, but the House analysis said the Florida Department of Business and Professional Regulation used the law in 1979 during a civil proceeding to suspend a liquor license.

None of the opponents of the bill commented on the House floor Wednesday. But during a committee meeting in September, Van Zant pointed to religious objections to the repeal.

"Who are we to say that we do not at least fear God?" he asked.
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