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New York’s adultery law could finally go down this year

  • / Updated:
  • Edwin Viera 

Of New York’s many outdated laws, the adultery law could go this year. A bill repealingthe 1907 New York adultery law passed the Assembly and is now in the Senate.

Adultery is a misdemeanor crime carrying a penalty of up to 90 days in jail. The repeal’s current sponsor is Long Island Assemblymember Charles Lavine, D-Glen Cove. The repeal bill has wide support, but Lavine noted there’s been pushback and hate mail about its passage too. He says the adultery law has always been controversial.

“When it was enacted in 1907, there were many letters to the editors of the then-responsible press complaining about the legislature taking it upon itself to regulate human nature and morality,” he explained.

The 1965 state law commission sought to repeal the law, but never did. This was because some politicians argued repeal then would seem as if the state were ‘endorsing’ infidelity.

This time, the bill to repeal the adultery law passed out of the Assembly Codes Committee unanimously and was approved by the chamber. The bill now goes to the Senate.

History is full of laws on morality, not just in New York State, but nationwide. The 18th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution led to the country’s 13 years of Prohibition. But Lavine believes similar morality laws, such as states’ banson in-vitro fertilization, have no place in government.

“This is just repugnant. It’s repugnant to the American spirit of fairness. Laws are enacted to express the desire to protect community, and they’re also enacted to serve as a deterrent,” he argued.

Adultery is a felony in three states, while 14 others, including New York, consider it a misdemeanor. In 2019, a flurry of states worked to pass bills repealing their adultery laws. Utah was successful while others such as Massachusetts and Virginia saw the bills fail in committee.

Lavine acknowledges that many outdated laws probably still exist on New York’s books. But he feels getting rid of this law ends any embarrassment for the few people the state charged with adultery. Although he considers it a trite saying, it’s apt in this case that, “Those who cannot learn from history are doomed to repeat it.”

“We have to stand up today for our rights,” he continued. “We have to protect our citizens. We have to protect the people of the United States, and we have to lead the way, not only in New York but in the United States as well.”