New Hampshire moves to scrap adultery law

A 200-year-old law criminalizing marital infidelity could be repealed this year if a measure moving through the New Hampshire legislature passes the Senate in coming days.

The law, on the books since the early 19th Century, makes adultery a Class B misdemeanor, punishable by a fine of up to $1,200. But the state House last week moved to repeal the law in an overwhelming, bipartisan vote.

The state Senate will take up the bill on Thursday, where it is expected to pass. A spokesman for Gov. Maggie Hassan (D) told the Associated Press she would likely sign the repeal if it gets approval from the legislature.

As it stands, the law is pretty antiquated. The state Judicial Branch said the law hadn’t been enforced in more than a decade. And it doesn’t apply equally to all: In 2003, the state Supreme Court ruled that homosexual affairs would not be covered by the statute, which only covers adultery between a man and a woman. The court ruled that case law only defined adultery as “intercourse from which spurious issue may arise” — as in, a child conceived during the affair.

No one is casting the vote as an endorsement of adultery. Instead, state Reps. Tim O’Flaherty (D-Manchester) and Carol McGuire (R-Epsom), who co-sponsored the House version of the legislation, said they viewed the statute as invasive and unenforceable.

Twenty-one states still consider adultery a crime. Vermont and Maine recently took their adultery laws off the books, and Colorado repealed its own law last March.

Reid Wilson covers state politics and policy for the Washington Post's GovBeat blog. He's a former editor in chief of The Hotline, the premier tip sheet on campaigns and elections, and he's a complete political junkie.
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