Md. lawmakers consider decriminalizing adultery

WASHINGTON — Cheating on a spouse can be considered wrong and immoral, but should it be illegal?

In Maryland, cheating can lead to a criminal record. But a lawmaker in Annapolis is trying to change that.

Del. Kathleen Dumais, a Democrat, introduced a bill that would decriminalize adultery.

“Truly, this is simply arcane,” said Dumais during a committee hearing on the legislation Tuesday. “It is still grounds for divorce and is something we can talk about in family law cases, but there need not be a crime on the books.”

Under Maryland law, someone found guilty of adultery is convicted of a misdemeanor, but the other penalty associated with the crime is rather odd — offenders have to simply pay a $10 fine.

“In my 28 years of practice, I have never, ever, had a client charged with it or been in a case where anyone was charged with it,” said Dumais, a lawyer who concentrates on family law with the firm Ethridge, Quinn, Kemp, McAuliffe, Rowan & Hartinger, in Rockville.

According to Maryland records, at least three people were charged with adultery last year.

The Maryland Office of the Public Defender said it has handled five adultery cases over the past eight years. The adultery offense was not the primary charge in each case, the office said.

Adultery is a crime in 19 states: Maryland, Virginia, Alabama, Minnesota, Arizona, Mississippi, Florida, New York, Georgia, Oklahoma, Idaho, Rhode Island, Illinois, South Carolina, Kansas, Utah, Massachusetts, Wisconsin and Michigan.

North Carolina and Kentucky also have statutes relating to adultery, but the law in North Carolina was ruled unconstitutional and Kentucky’s law applies only to civil actions rather than criminal.

Lawmakers in Virginia have repeatedly tried to reduce the penalty for adultery from a misdemeanor to a civil penalty but have not been successful.


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