About 550,000 Floridians were lawbreakers under a mid-19th-century ban on cohabitation. But now unmarried couples can live together without fear that the government will kick in their door and arrest them.
As one state legislator put it, the state will no longer be peeking between Floridians’ sheets.
Florida is one of the last states to repeal its old cohabitation ban. Gov. Rick Scott signed into law the bill that now allows the unwed to shack up. Only Michigan and Mississippi are still behind in the times, the Orlando Sentinel reported.
“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,” Rep. Richard Stark, who sponsored the bill, told the Palm Beach Post.
The old statute was passed in 1868, and at the time, people could end up in prison for two years and pay a $300 fine if they defied it to “live in sin.” The law was originally adopted to prevent racial mixing and intra-familial marriage, the Sunshine State News added. Many states had similar laws but gradually did away with them as society progressed.
In Florida, defiance of the law was a second-degree misdemeanor and carried a 60-day jail sentence and $500 fine. Same-sex couples, however, were able to skirt the ban due to its archaic wording.
“If any man and woman, not being married to each other, lewdly and lasciviously associate and cohabit together… they shall be guilty of a second degree misdemeanor.”
Seven other states have already repealed their cohabitation bans in recent years, including Arizona, Idaho, Maine, New Mexico, North Dakota, Virginia, and West Virginia.
Although arrests under were rare, they certainly happened. Between 2007 and 2011, 700 couples were punished for disobedience of the ban. And in 1979, the Florida Department of Business and Professional Regulation suspended a liquor license during a civil proceeding using the cohabitation ban as a foundation.
In an interesting argument for the ban to be repealed, Rep. Stark reminded the House during a session to discuss the bill that lots of seniors were considered criminals under the cohabitation ban. He said plenty of elderly couples cohabitate but find it impractical to be married for various reasons.
“It’s a victory to have our laws reflect the real world and get rid of old laws that no longer have any support. It’s also another case of the Legislature recognizing the real lives of a huge and diverse population. We can always have more of that.”
“Whether friends or more, government has no business looking under the sheets. In talking to elders in Florida, who often live together for financial reasons and companionship, they were distressed to find out they might be breaking the law even if they were just friends,” added Rep. Rehwinkel Vasilinda. “In the past, House rules only allowed the repeal of an entire section of a statute. With the new House rules, I was able to take a scalpel to the statute, removing a specific phrase about cohabitation while leaving the public lewd and lascivious portion intact.”
Of course, the cohabitation ban wasn’t repealed without a bit of argument. Five Florida Republicans opposed the bill — Janet Adkins of Fernandina Beach, Brad Drake of Eucheeanna, Mike Hill of Pensacola Beach, Jennifer Sullivan of Mount Dora (the Legislature’s youngest member at 24), and Charles Van Zant of Keystone Heights.
Van Zant offered a little insight to why he opposed the repeal of the cohabitation ban during a committee meeting in September. His arguments were based on religious grounds.
“Who are we to say that we do not at least fear God?”
[Image via Goran Bogicevic/Shutterstock]