Sex offenses in marriage: Maryland to drop spousal defense in sex crime cases

Maryland will no longer allow someone to use marriage as a defense against allegations of sex crimes starting Oct. 1.

The change in Maryland law was approved during the most recent General Assembly session in Annapolis and followed a yearslong effort by advocates and several legislators to change the law.

Lisae Jordan, the executive director of the Maryland Coalition Against Sexual Assault (MCASA), explained that under Maryland law, prosecutors could not charge a spouse who committed violent sexual assaults against their married partner.

Jordan said when people were made aware of the current law, “I have yet to speak to any woman or man, and especially any young person in college or high school, who thought that in 2023, marriage was a defense to sex crimes. It’s archaic.”

Gina Cirincione, the State’s Attorney for Washington County, was among the lawmakers who testified in favor of the bill in Annapolis.

“There is no spousal defense to any other crime in Maryland; not assault, not aggravated assault or any crime in which a person can be injured,” she said. The exception under established Maryland law, according to Cirincione, was sex crimes.

Jordan referenced some of the testimony submitted to lawmakers, including “heart-wrenching testimony from survivors who had been brutally sexually assaulted” by their spouses.

Opponents previously voiced concerns that “familiar” touching and acts of affection between a married couple could subject one or another partner to criminal prosecutions. During her testimony before a Senate committee in Annapolis, Jordan told lawmakers, “Couples are allowed to agree to whatever practices they wish between themselves.”

Hundreds of bills were passed during the 90-day General Assembly session — some take effect July 1, others become law Oct. 1. Legislation passed as “emergency bills” take effect immediately.

Kate Ryan

As a member of the award-winning WTOP News, Kate is focused on state and local government. Her focus has always been on how decisions made in a council chamber or state house affect your house. She's also covered breaking news, education and more.

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