Good news, lascivious lovebirds: Michigan dumps ban on unwed cohabitation
- Senate votes to repeal archaic ban on unmarried men and women ‘lewdly and lasciviously’ living together
- Proponents say the measure brings Michigan “into the 21st century”
- Foes argue repealing the law does away with an incentive for marriage
LANSING — If you've ever lived with a loved one in Michigan without first getting married — and maybe even consummated that relationship in your shared home — you may technically have committed a crime.
Under a 1931 law, the brazen act of unwed “cohabitation” could have cost you each one year in prison and a fine of up to $1,000.
But fear not, ye lovebirds. The archaic statute that one law firm has called the "silliest law" in Michigan may soon be wiped from the books.
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Michigan's Democratic-led Senate on Wednesday approved legislation in a 29-9 vote that would repeal an outdated 1931 law that is no longer enforced, but technically prohibits unmarried people to "lewdly and lasciviously" associate or cohabitate.
Sen. Stephanie Chang, D-Detroit said Michigan is one of only two states left in the country with a law banning unmarried men and women from living together, noting the issue has “real-life implications” on taxpayers.
The Internal Revenue Service tax code states that individuals can’t claim certain tax benefits if their relationship violates local laws, Chang said. She argued unmarried couples in committed relationships in Michigan should have the same rights as they would in any other state.
“This bill is not about a moral issue, it’s not about changing people’s behavior, not about marriage rates,” she said in a floor speech Wednesday. “It’s really just about bringing us into the 21st Century.”
It's the latest in a series of "zombie laws" that new Democratic majorities in Lansing are working to repeal.
Gov. Gretchen Whitmer recently signed the repeal of a separate 1931 law that had made it a crime for physicians to perform abortions in the state, a dormant statute rendered moot by recent voter approval of a constitutional amendment.
The legislation earned bipartisan support, but nine Republicans voted against the repeal on grounds that marriage should continue to be incentivized under existing tax structure.
Sen. Thomas Albert, R-Lowell, called the criminalization of cohabitation “foolish policy,” but opposed the idea of allowing unmarried couples to claim tax benefits on dependents. He argued that it’s better for children to grow up in a household with married parents.
“Having a criminal penalty for cohabitation is not good policy, but this bill has potential consequences beyond that,” Albert said in a floor speech. “It removes the bad from state law without an effort to keep what is good.”
The repeal of the cohabitation law is expected to have "no fiscal impact" on state or local governments, according to the nonpartisan Senate Fiscal Agency.
That's because "the last time a person was charged under this section of the (criminal) code is not known."
While the legislation passed by the Senate Wednesday would do away with penalties for unmarried cohabitation, the bill does leave open the possibility of a misdemeanor for a person guilty of “open and gross lewdness and lascivious behavior,” regardless of marital status.
The bill now heads to the House for further consideration and would need to be signed by Gov. Gretchen Whitmer to become law.
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