ANNAPOLIS – Maryland’s centuries-old adultery law appears to be safe for now, as lawmakers have passed on a proposal to modernize it.
The House Judiciary Committee voted unanimously Friday against the bill, which would have broadened the adultery law to specifically include extramarital homosexual affairs, among other changes.
No one spoke to revive the bill when it came up on the House floor Tuesday for second reading.
“The bill is pretty much dead this session,” said Del. Michael Gordon, D-Montgomery, who sponsored the bill with Del. John S. Arnick, D-Baltimore County.
But Gordon said the issue may be back next year. Marylanders currently spend thousands of dollars for lawyers during divorces and Gordon said a change would simplify the process and save people money.
Under current law, any person charged with adultery can invoke his or her Fifth Amendment right and refuse to testify against himself, which drives up legal and investigation costs, supporters said. The bill would have decriminalized adultery, they said, depriving the accused spouse of the right to invoke the Fifth.
The bill would also have allowed courts to penalize those who violate their marriages by cheating with someone of the same sex. Currently, said Alan Meiselman, a Rockville lawyer who testified in support of the bill, the law maintains that same-sex partners cannot have actual “intercourse” and thus are not covered by the adultery statute.
“I’m really disappointed that it was defeated. It shows how uneducated some of the lawmakers are in Maryland,” said Meiselman.
“I don’t think they really understood the purpose of the bill,” he said. “We’re living in the 1990s. A law that is 5,000 years old has to be rewritten to fit the current lifestyles and mores of the people.”
Decriminalization is a good idea, said Meiselman, but the important change would have been defining adultery to include homosexual affairs outside marriage.
“It just boggles my mind,” Meiselman said of the bill’s failure. “It doesn’t matter who it’s with, it (extramarital sex) is a breach of marital fidelity.”
Del. Dana Dembrow, D-Montgomery, said he agrees that same- sex affairs should be penalized the same as heterosexual adultery, and so did the House Judiciary Committee. The wording of the bill is what caused problems for committee members, he said.
“It just did not do what they intended for it to do, and that’s why we voted unanimously” against it, he said.