Pols Asked to Modernize Adultery Law
Montgomery Journal, January 29, 1998
2 Research Court, Rockville, MD 20850-3285
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By Marquita Smith
Capital News Service
ANNAPOLIS - If President Clinton were charged with adultery in Maryland
today, he could invoke his Fifth Amendment right and refuse to testify against himself,
one lawmaker noted yesterday.
But such apparent loopholes in the state's adultery law are not enough reason to tamper
with a centuries-old statute, said some House Judiciary Committee members, who were urged
to update the law.
Supporters want to broaden the adultery law specifically to include extramarital
homosexual affairs and, at the same time, to decriminalize adultery so that wandering
spouses can no longer plead the Fifth.
Alan Meiselman, a Rockville lawyer, said that clients in divorce cases are forced to
pay thousands more in legal fees to prove a charge of adultery against their spouses under
the current law.
He also said that people who violate their marriages by having an affair with a person
of the same sex should be penalized the same as those who cheat with the opposite sex. But
it is often tougher to win alimony in such cases.
"Whether or not it's with the same sex or with someone of the opposite sex, it's
still adultery and the innocent spouse's rights should be the same," he said.
Besides, Meiselman said, no on has been tried and convicted of adultery since the 1920s
or 30s. As times have changed, so should the law, said Dels. John S. Arnick,
D-7th-Baltimore, and Michael Gordon, D-17th-Montgomery, sponsors of the bill.
"We're not worried about the crime," Arnick said.
But while some lawmakers said jokingly that the $10 fine for adultery is too steep,
others said the issue is no laughing matter.
Del. Dana Dembrow, D-Montgomery, said he agreed that same-sex affairs should be
penalized the same as heterosexual adultery. But decriminalization is a bigger issue, he
"I agree that many of the bills are antiquated, but this one is still there very
deliberately," said Dembrow, who came up with the Clinton scenario.
If adultery is no longer a criminal offense, attorneys could subpoena all kinds of
people and have them say anything about a person's private and sexual acts.
"We need to have some kind of privacy," Dembrow said.
But the current law still needs some clarification, said Susan Elgin, a Baltimore
lawyer who practices family law.
"If your spouse is having an affair with someone of the same sex...it could be
hard, if not impossible, for you to get a divorce in some courts," Elgin said.
Still others said the whole concept of adultery is outdated.
Kenneth A. Stevens of Savage testified that ``sex acts between consenting adults,
regardless of their marital status should not be a crime" and that punishing
infidelity should not be any of the state's business.
At Lambda Rising, a gay-oriented book store in Northwest Washington, clerk Holly
Fogleboch said she is not sure a change in the adultery law is needed.
But Fogleboch - who said two of the store's best sellers include "When Husbands
Come Out of the Closet" and "Married Women Who Love Women" - said there's
no denying that times have changed.
"Husbands and wives are leaving their spouses for same-sex partners more and
more," she said. "Trying to ignore the fact that it happens is dumb."