Utah Repeals Law That Criminalized Sex Outside Of Marriage


Photo Credits: Flickr

Approximately 62% of Utahans are reported to be members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (LDS Church), making Utah the only state with a majority population belonging to a single church. This greatly influences Utahan culture and daily life.

Maybe some people don’t know that sex between unmarried people in Utah was technically illegal until this week. Section 76-7-104 of the Utah Code said any unmarried person who “voluntarily engage[s] in sexual intercourse with another” was guilty of a class B misdemeanor. The act carried a possible penalty of up to six months in jail or a maximum fine of $1,000. This legal provision derives from the Utah’s 1973 fornication law which designated sex outside of marriage as a class B misdemeanor. That law was finally overturned on Wednesday with a signature from Gov. Gary Herbert.

State Senate Minority Leader Karen Mayne sponsored the bill and tells NPR that it was just a small piece in Utah’s criminal code that needed to be revamped. “You hear all over the U.S. how you have antiquated laws about horses in the streets and all kinds of things, so we wanted to make them modern-day, in the now,” Mayne says.

The legislature previously passed a bill removing adultery and sodomy among consenting adults as crimes in Utah. State Rep. Paul Ray called the 1973 fornication law unenforceable, according to The Associated Press. But some lawmakers did not want it repealed on moral grounds.

"Personally I don't know if anyone ever worried about this," Emily Anderson, a senior at the University of Utah and the editor-in-chief of its newspaper, The Daily Utah Chronicle, tells NPR.

The bill wasn't popular with some of the more conservative members of the Utah House of Representatives. Rep. Merrill Nelson, R-Grantsville, said he objected. So did Rep. Keven Stratton, R-Orem. "What is legally is often far below what is morally right," Rep. Stratton said. "And I recognize our laws are not strong enough to rule a immoral people."

While no one had been prosecuted under the old law in recent memory, it certainly hovered in the minds of some people:

In a 1991 Deseret News report, an unmarried woman was quoted as saying she had “real concrete fear of criminal prosecution” for breaking the fornication law. “I am aware that last year another person in Salt Lake County was criminally prosecuted for such conduct,” she said in a lawsuit filed that year.

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