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 Tuesday.
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 to specifically include extramarital homosexual affairs and, at the same time, to decriminalize adultery so that wandering spouses can no longer invoke 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 one 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-Baltimore County, and Michael Gordon, D-Montgomery, sponsors of the bill.
“We’re not worried about the crime,” said Arnick.
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 said.
“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Still others said the whole concept of adultery is outdated.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, D.C., 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.”