Va. Senate panel advances ‘Love Shack’ bill

RICHMOND — A Senate panel on Monday unanimously advanced a bill to repeal an old law that makes it illegal for unmarried couples to live together in Virginia.

It is a misdemeanor in the state, under a law dating to the late 19th century, for “any persons, not married to each other, [to] lewdly and lasciviously associate and cohabit together.”

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Sen. Adam Ebbin (D-Alexandria) brought legislation to legalize cohabitation, a measure one observer in the committee hearing dubbed the “Love Shack” bill.

“Are you suggesting that perhaps things have changed since 1877?” committee chairman Sen. Thomas Norment (R-James City) jokingly asked Ebbin.

It is likely that no one has been prosecuted under the law for decades, but state officials used it in the early 1990s to threaten revocation of a Norfolk day-care provider’s state license, Ebbin told the committee.

Ebbin said only three other states still have cohabitation laws on the books: Mississippi, Michigan and Florida.

The law also prohibits anyone, married or not, from engaging in “open and gross lewdness,” meaning sex acts in public.

As originally proposed, Ebbin’s bill would have let that aspect of the law stand. But after it was noted that public sex is prohibited in other sections of the state code, the committee amended the bill to strike the “lewd and lascivious” statute completely.

It is not clear if the bill will face opposition from conservative groups before it reaches the floor of the Senate.

“[W]e haven’t taken a position on this,” Chris Freund, spokesman for the conservative Family Foundation of Virginia, said via e-mail. “We’re just monitoring it.”

 
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