Adultery is expected to be legalized in the coming weeks in New York, a development that leaves most people surprised it’s even a crime in the first place.

Qualified as a misdemeanor since 1907, the law was designed to discourage individuals from cheating on their spouse as a means to secure a divorce. At the time, infidelity was the only way to legally split.

Religious and moral forces have long supported the criminalization of infidelity, of course, rightly contending that stable marriages make for stable societies.

The first couple ever arrested back in New York for violating the law made international headlines. Patrick M. Hirsch, a wealthy railroad executive, and Ruby Yeargin were the culprits. When detectives descended on their home (they were secretly living together) in September of 1907, the half-clothed couple reportedly dropped to their knees and begged for their freedom.

At the time, what seemed to capture the world’s attention wasn’t so much the illicit relationship, though, but the fact that Hirsch and his lover had kidnapped his young son from his wife and took off with the child for Europe. They tried to convince the boy that Yeargin was his biological mother.

The Empire State hasn’t been alone. Adultery and fornication laws have traditionally existed all over the country. While they’re considered misdemeanors in most states, they’re considered felonies in Oklahoma, Wisconsin and Michigan.

In recent years, numerous states have moved to decriminalize adultery, most recently Minnesota and Idaho. Others have included Massachusetts, New Hampshire, Colorado and West Virginia.

Even in states where adultery laws are on the books, it’s rarely been prosecuted. Records indicate only a dozen cases have been filed in New York since 1972, and just five have received convictions.

Lawrence v. Texas, the landmark 2003 case where the Supreme Court ruled 6-3 that anti-sodomy laws were unconstitutional, has emboldened many of the proponents for repealing adultery and fornication laws.

Historically, few legislators have championed legislation aimed at decriminalizing adultery out of fear that it makes them appear to be endorsing infidelity.

That’s the whole point.

Laws of this nature are designed to discourage and stigmatize destructive behavior. Despite what many have incorrectly suggested, the state has a vested interest in the health and vitality of the marital union. When husbands and wives live faithfully and happily, everybody benefits. When the opposite occurs, everybody suffers.

We know that divorce is a leading indicator of poverty. Children of divorce suffer on numerous levels, including mentally, emotionally, academically and spiritually.

As Dr. Al Mohler of Southern Seminary has eloquently noted, “Throughout most of human history, morality and law were united and in agreement when it came to the reality of adultery and the larger context of sexual immorality. Laws criminalizing adultery were adopted because the society believed that marriage was central to its own existence and flourishing, and that adultery represented a dagger struck at the heart of the society, as well as the heart of marriage.”

Advocates for the repeal of adultery laws often pose and present as the enlightened and the liberated. In reality, anyone who does anything to make infidelity easier and more acceptable is enabling and enslaving countless individuals to a grim and difficult future.

It seems to be human nature to focus on the negative, but state legislators would be wise to resist the urge and instead spend their finite resources on policies and legislation that would encourage people to get and stay married. They can do this in a variety of ways, including lowering tax rates, encouraging premarital counseling and requiring a cooling off period before allowing couples to divorce.

The obsession with legalizing destructive activities is a diabolical development that has the evil one’s fingerprints all over it. He is famous for promising one thing and delivering the exact opposite. Lying is one of the deceiver’s most destructive tools, and few places involve this more than in the context of marital infidelity.


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