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Thou shalt not prosecute adultery

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1fc9f9d3 e453 64b5 08b6 478cd6a2c7ff Thou shalt not prosecute adultery

The seventh of those pesky Ten Commandments so beloved of Christian nationalist legislators seeking to spoonfeed them to schoolchildren is “Thou shalt not commit adultery.” Why would adult legislators consider it appropriate or necessary to warn children, including kindergarteners who can’t read yet, not to commit adultery?

Why does adultery, rather than rape and incest, rate the top 10 anyway? Adultery may sometimes result in unpleasant consequences, but why is it still a crime in many states in our secular nation?

Not only asking this question but doing something about it is New York state Rep. Charles Lavine. For sponsoring legislation to repeal this non-crime, a Class B misdemeanor, Lavine was deservedly named a recent “Secularist of the Week” by FFRF Action Fund, the Freedom From Religion Foundation’s legislative arm. Lavine notes, “This is not the first time that I will have been called a heretic.”

Hastening to describe himself as “happily married” for 54 years, the white-haired Lavine explains that he properly took alarm after the overturning of Roe v. Wade and the Alabama state Supreme Court ruling insisting test-tube embryos are legal children. “Any criminal law that penalizes intimate behavior between consenting adults does not deserve to be on the books,” he maintains, warning, “We are all in danger of losing our rights.”

The New York Legislature fortunately agreed and his bill recently passed. We are in a holding pattern to discover whether New York Gov. Kathy Hochul will sign. Surely she will? (But Hochul has disappointed us in the past by twice vetoing legislation affirming a right to secular alternatives to “higher power”-based drug and alcohol treatment programs.)

One news outlet jocularly headlined coverage of the repeal as: “You may soon be legally allowed to cheat on your spouse in New York.” Ha ha. But Lavine has pointed out, “Those most likely to be prosecuted for this crime, not only in New York, but throughout the United States and even worldwide, are women. I think it’s time for our state legislatures throughout the United States to stand up for human rights. And women’s rights are human rights.”

Adultery bans were adopted as punitive measures aimed at women, and in particular intended to discourage extramarital affairs that could throw a child’s parentage into question, seconds Katharine B. Silbaugh, a law professor at Boston University who co-authored “A Guide to America’s Sex Laws.”

Prosecutions in New York state have been rare, but that Old Testament injunction lies in wait to be inequitably applied. And with the Mosaic law, it’s the double standard all the way. Adultery is painted as a vile act for a woman in the Old Testament. One of the most offensive verses in the bible, a handbook for women’s subjection, is found in Proverbs 30:20: “Such is the way of an adulterous woman; she eateth and wipeth her mouth, and saith, I have done no wickedness.” In a religion where men could marry multiple wives — “wise” King Solomon is described as having 300 wives and 700 concubines — adultery was hardly applicable to men (1 Kings 11:3).

Here’s the scoop — with thanks to FFRF Senior Policy Counsel Ryan Jayne and State Policy Manager Ryan Dudley — on the other states that need to repeal antediluvian adultery statues:

Wisconsin, Oklahoma and Michigan, where adultery is still a felony!
• Alabama, Arizona, Florida, Georgia, Illinois, Maryland, Mississippi, Nebraska, New York, North Carolina, North Dakota, Rhode Island, South Carolina, and Virginia), as well as in Puerto Rico.

We need more “heretics” like Lavine, who said the only criticism he’s received is from a few “religious nuts,” to lead on repealing adultery laws. Sure, most of us would prefer our spouses or partners remain faithful. But that’s a personal matter, not something for the long arm of the law to get involved in. It’s different strokes (ha ha) for different folks. Consensual sexual relations between adults should not be criminalized simply because ancient patriarchal prophets considered women to be the property of their husbands.

And members of Congress should follow suit, by repealing the 1873 Comstock Act, which now, unbelievably, is being resurrected to permit religious zealot Anthony Comstock to reach through time and threaten abortion rights in the 21st century.

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2 Responses

  1. Correction: I identified the last comment above as from “AG1” i.e. Annie Laurie Gaylor, but actually it was from me. It should be:
    “GW1: Annie Laurie, I encourage you to write a retraction of this article. Get on the right side. I hate to disagree with you, but I think you missed the boat on this one. If you wish to debate this further, write me an email.”

  2. Dear Annie Laurie, I agree with your positions about 95% of the time, but here I don’t. I think you missed the boat on this one. I think your position is contrary to Correct Universal Ethics for Persons. I will respond here to all your points.

    AG1: The seventh of those pesky Ten Commandments so beloved of Christian nationalist legislators seeking to spoonfeed them to schoolchildren is “Thou shalt not commit adultery.” Why would adult legislators consider it appropriate or necessary to warn children, including kindergarteners who can’t read yet, not to commit adultery?

    GW1: I agree that the Ten Commandments should not be part of the public education curriculum, but this does not mean that there should not be a moral rule against adultery or that the one commandment on adultery in the Ten Commandments is incorrect.

    AG1: Why does adultery, rather than rape and incest, rate the top 10 anyway? Adultery may sometimes result in unpleasant consequences, but why is it still a crime in many states in our secular nation?

    GW1: I don’t think a moral rule against adultery belongs in the top ten of moral rules, but still we should have one. Adultery should be a crime because when people commit adultery they do significant harm to other persons. It is especially harmful when men commit adultery against women.

    AG1: Not only asking this question but doing something about it is New York state Rep. Charles Lavine. For sponsoring legislation to repeal this non-crime, a Class B misdemeanor, Lavine was deservedly named a recent “Secularist of the Week” by FFRF Action Fund, the Freedom From Religion Foundation’s legislative arm. Lavine notes, “This is not the first time that I will have been called a heretic.”

    GW1: FFRF has made a mistake in declaring this man to be “Secularist of the Week.” I believe adultery should be illegal. So far, you have not made a good argument that it should be legal.

    AG1: Hastening to describe himself as “happily married” for 54 years, the white-haired Lavine explains that he properly took alarm after the overturning of Roe v. Wade and the Alabama state Supreme Court ruling insisting test-tube embryos are legal children. “Any criminal law that penalizes intimate behavior between consenting adults does not deserve to be on the books,” he maintains, warning, “We are all in danger of losing our rights.”

    GW1: Roe v. Wade was flawed, but mostly beneficial. I support a new federal law supporting the pro-person position on abortion rights, not the pro-life or pro-choice positions. The Alabama supreme court decision simply applied the wrong law to the case they decided. Embryos are property, jointly owned by the man and woman who produced them. Embryos are not persons, children, or child persons.

    AG1: The New York Legislature fortunately agreed and his bill recently passed. We are in a holding pattern to discover whether New York Gov. Kathy Hochul will sign. Surely she will? (But Hochul has disappointed us in the past by twice vetoing legislation affirming a right to secular alternatives to “higher power”-based drug and alcohol treatment programs.)

    GW1: Religion should have nothing to do with secular law. But there should be a secular law prohibiting adultery and there should be a reasonable penalty to be paid by those convicted of adultery. Maybe it could be punished in either civil or criminal court.

    AG1: One news outlet jocularly headlined coverage of the repeal as: “You may soon be legally allowed to cheat on your spouse in New York.” Ha ha.

    GW1: There is nothing funny about this. Adultery should be prohibited legally. If you think not, then make your case.

    AG1: But Lavine has pointed out, “Those most likely to be prosecuted for this crime, not only in New York, but throughout the United States and even worldwide, are women. I think it’s time for our state legislatures throughout the United States to stand up for human rights. And women’s rights are human rights.”

    GW1: Let’s stand up for the rights of all persons, i.e. men, women, and others. All persons suspected of adultery should be prosecuted! What is adultery anyway? I think it is the action of a person X interacting in a romantic or sexual way with person Y when X has made a promise to be exclusive or monogamous with person Z. Agree? If X then breaks this promise, they significantly harm Y. This behavior should be illegal and should be penalized if it occurs. Don’t you know that the percentage of women harmed by adultery is higher than the percentage of men harmed by it? Thus, you in particular should be supportive of adultery being illegal.

    AG1: Adultery bans were adopted as punitive measures aimed at women, and in particular intended to discourage extramarital affairs that could throw a child’s parentage into question, seconds Katharine B. Silbaugh, a law professor at Boston University who co-authored “A Guide to America’s Sex Laws.”

    GW1: If this is true, then they were adopted or designed incorrectly! Adultery laws should be designed to protect men and women equally! Again, the percentage of women harmed by adultery is higher than the percentage of men harmed by it.

    AG1: Prosecutions in New York state have been rare, but that Old Testament injunction lies in wait to be inequitably applied. And with the Mosaic law, it’s the double standard all the way.

    GW1: Laws against adultery should be designed and enforced to protect men and women equally. Isn’t this obvious?

    AG1: Adultery is painted as a vile act for a woman in the Old Testament.

    GW1: Adultery is a vile act when committed by a man, as well as by a woman. We should ignore the OT for our ethics and law since it is based on false premises about a deity.

    AG1: One of the most offensive verses in the bible, a handbook for women’s subjection, is found in Proverbs 30:20: “Such is the way of an adulterous woman; she eateth and wipeth her mouth, and saith, I have done no wickedness.”

    GW1: Once again, adultery is a vile act when committed by a man, as well as by a woman. The OT does not champion equal rights! We know that.

    AG1: In a religion where men could marry multiple wives — “wise” King Solomon is described as having 300 wives and 700 concubines — adultery was hardly applicable to men (1 Kings 11:3).

    GW1: But we secular humanists should work to make moral and legal standards against adultery equally applicable to men and women.

    AG1: Here’s the scoop — with thanks to FFRF Senior Policy Counsel Ryan Jayne and State Policy Manager Ryan Dudley — on the other states that need to repeal antediluvian adultery statues:

    GW1: No, here is the real scoop: All governments should make and enforce laws against adultery. Adultery indicates a broken promise, agreement, or contract, which harms real people.

    AG1: Wisconsin, Oklahoma and Michigan, where adultery is still a felony! Alabama, Arizona, Florida, Georgia, Illinois, Maryland, Mississippi, Nebraska, New York, North Carolina, North Dakota, Rhode Island, South Carolina, and Virginia), as well as in Puerto Rico.

    GW1: I am not sure if adultery should be penalized by incarceration or financial compensation to the victim. That is a debate for another day. But it should be prohibited by law.

    AG1: We need more “heretics” like Lavine, who said the only criticism he’s received is from a few “religious nuts,” to lead on repealing adultery laws.

    GW1: No, we need more heretics like me who oppose adultery and think it should be illegal, as well as immoral. I think I will write to Lavine so he can hear a different view from a heretic.

    AG1: Sure, most of us would prefer our spouses or partners remain faithful.

    GW1: Most of us make agreements with our spouses or partners to be exclusive or monogamous. Duh. It is more than preference!

    AG1: But that’s a personal matter, not something for the long arm of the law to get involved in.

    GW1: I totally disagree. It should not just be a personal matter. It should be something for the short arm of the law to get involved with. Partners who cheat do real harm to the people to whom they made promises. If Dan cheated on you, he would do real harm to you. If he does, then he should pay some penalty imposed by the law. For too darn long, women have been the brunt of adultery, and it’s time to put a stop to this. You should be championing laws to make adultery illegal, not to make it legal.

    AG1: It’s different strokes (ha ha) for different folks.

    GW1: There’s nothing funny about adultery. Why are you cracking jokes about it?

    AG1: Consensual sexual relations between adults should not be criminalized simply because ancient patriarchal prophets considered women to be the property of their husbands.

    GW1: If person X engages in sexual relations with person Y, when X has made a promise, agreement, or contract with person Z to avoid this behavior, then X should be penalized by the law. Persons cannot and should not own other persons, but persons should keep their promises to others. Isn’t this obvious?

    AG1: And members of Congress should follow suit, by repealing the 1873 Comstock Act, which now, unbelievably, is being resurrected to permit religious zealot Anthony Comstock to reach through time and threaten abortion rights in the 21st century.

    GW1: That is a totally different topic. We need a new federal law on abortion rights, one that is reasonable, fair, and ethical. And of course, secular.

    AG1: Annie Laurie, I encourage you to write a retraction of this article. Get on the right side. I hate to disagree with you, but I think you missed the boat on this one. If you wish to debate this further, write me an email.

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