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Bill decriminalizing adultery awaits Gov. Hochul’s signature

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ALBANY, N.Y. — Committing adultery is a violation of the Ten Commandments according to the Bible, but many people are unaware it is also a Class B Misdemeanor in New York state.

Assemblymember Chuck Lavine, D-Glen Cove, said even when lawmakers enacted the legislation in 1907, it was controversial.

“There were a lot of letters to the editors of reputable newspapers and also editorials condemning the fact that the state of New York was now enforcing morality over violations of what was then referred to as affairs or matters of the heart,” Lavine said.

The legislator believes the law has remained on the books largely because it is rarely enforced. His office has found only 13 instances since 1972 of law enforcement charging someone and five prosecutions.

“In the few instances where it was enforced, there was never much of a hue and cry and no public outcry about this was just the subject of very highly selective enforcement,” Lavine said.

Tully Rinckey PLLC Family and Matrimony attorney Barbara King said she has never represented anyone or known any other lawyers who have pursued criminal adultery charges. However, it was common in civil litigation prior to 2010 when New York enacted No Fault divorce.

“If you wanted to get divorced, you had to prove that somebody cheated on you or abused you or abandoned you,” King said.

She said the law is extremely outdated and doesn’t even believe the threat of criminal penalties, up to three months and jail and a $500 fine, has served as a deterrent to extramarital affairs.

“I think the deterrent to having an affair is going to come from a lot of other areas, the cost of breaking up a marriage, the effect on children and a family and the financial fallout of divorce, which is a big component these days,” King said.

However, the state Legislature did pass a bill this session to repeal adultery as a crime and it is awaiting the governor’s signature. Lavine, who sponsored it, believes it is important to send a message to New Yorkers about the direction of the state.

“When we see many of the states and people running for office on the local, the state and the national level, who are championing authoritarianism, then it’s time for us as Americans of good faith and good conscience to say enough is enough,” he said.

Lavine said, historically, women are the target of adultery laws and they serve to stigmatize them.

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