Cohabitation No Longer a Criminal Act in Florida
Robert Napper – Legal Correspondent
Breathe easy you Florida couples who until a week ago lived together illegally while unwed. You will not be facing up to 60 days in the county clink and a $500 fine on a second-degree misdemeanor charge for co-habitation while not married.
A Florida law that banned unmarried couples from living together dating back to post-Civil War Reconstruction is no more. Gov. Rick Scott signed SB 498 which repealed a law that made it a misdemeanor “if any man and woman, not being married to each other, lewdly and lasciviously associate and cohabit together.”
Effective immediately, that language – which dates back to 1868 – is no more. Instead, the new law now reads: “If any man or woman, married or unmarried, engages in open and gross lewdness and lascivious behavior, they shall be guilty of a misdemeanor of the second degree.”
Florida leaves behind only Michigan and Mississippi as the last states to have such a law on the books. Several states have pulled outlawing co-habitation from their books over the years, including Arizona, Idaho, Maine, New Mexico, North Carolina, North Dakota, Virginia, and West Virginia, according to a Florida Senate study.
The repealed statute does not have much of a history of enforcement but it was updated in 1971 to lessen the penalty outlined in the 1868 law of two years in prison, up to one-year in county jail, or a $300 fine, according to the Senate study.
Eight years after that change, however, the Florida Department of Business and Professional Regulation did use it in a civil context to suspend a company’s liquor license after “finding that six of the company’s agents, servants or employees violated” the statute, the study said.
Not everyone in the legislature approved of repealing the statute. Republican Rep. Charles Van Zant, of Palatka, objected during a House Criminal Justice Subcommittee hearing on the Senate bill’s sister legislation, HB 4003, citing religious reasons.
“Who are we to say that we do not at least fear God,” he said.
One of the House bill’s authors, Democrat Michelle Rehwinkel Vasilinda, of Tallahassee, countered that the old language could be deemed discriminatory as men and men live together, as do women and women. She added the government’s role is not to go “peeking under the sheets.”