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N.H. lawmakers working on repealing 200-year-old adultery law

By Norma Love
Associated Press / December 14, 2009

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CONCORD, N.H. - The original punishments - including standing on the gallows for an hour with a noose around the neck - have been softened to a $1,200 fine, yet some lawmakers think it is time for the 200-year-old crime of adultery to come off New Hampshire’s books.

Seven months after the state OK’d gay marriage, lawmakers will consider easing government further from the bedroom with a bill to repeal the adultery law.

“We shouldn’t be regulating people’s sex lives and their love lives,’’ state Representative Timothy Horrigan said. “This is one area the state government should stay out of people’s bedrooms.’’

Horrigan, Democrat from Durham, and state Representative Carol McGuire, Republican from Epsom, have teamed up on legislation to repeal the law.

Horrigan signed on because he believes it continues New Hampshire’s efforts toward marriage equality. In June, lawmakers voted to legalize gay marriage - a law that takes effect Jan. 1.

“We shouldn’t be in the business of regulating what consenting adults do with each other,’’ Horrigan said.

Convicted adulterers years ago faced standing on the gallows, up to 39 lashes, a year in jail or a fine of 100 pounds. The punishment has been relaxed to a misdemeanor and a fine of up to $1,200 - with no jail time.

House Criminal Justice and Public Safety Chairman Stephen Shurtleff’s committee will hear the bill, probably next month. The Democrat from Concord predicts his committee will support repealing the law since it is not being enforced.

In the past, conservatives argued decriminalizing adultery would weaken marriage.

Kevin Smith, executive director of the conservative Cornerstone Policy Research, opposes this repeal effort for the same reason.

“Even though this criminal law probably is not enforced right now and probably has not been enforced for some time, I think it’s important to have a public policy statement that says generally or in all situations adultery is not a good thing. And I think, by repealing that statute, you’re essentially diminishing the harmful effects of adultery,’’ Smith said.