Archaic sex laws are no laughing matter

In Alexandria, Minn., it is illegal for a man to have sex with his wife if he reeks of garlic, onions or sardines. Across the border in Connorsville, Wis., a law prohibits a man from shooting off a gun when his female partner reaches orgasm. And down in Ames, Iowa, no husband is allowed to have more than three gulps of beer while in bed or cuddling with his spouse.
These antiquated sex laws, and dozens more from across the country, are fodder for jokes on the Internet, where they are frequently listed. Forgotten or ignored, the statutes are legal relics of outmoded social norms or provisions instigated to ban outrageously specific behavior. A hilarious Newcastle, Wyo., ordinance prohibits couples from having sex in a store’s walk-in meat freezer. But an Idaho teen wasn’t laughing this summer when she was charged under an archaic fornication law.
Sixteen-year-old Amanda Smisek was cited in violation of Idaho Code 19-6603, a 1921 law making sex out of wedlock a crime. At first glance it appeared Gem County Prosecutor Douglas Varie was on a crusade to curb teen pregnancy by convicting Smisek and six other teens. But the revival of the old fornication law has more to do with money than morality.
“What you have is a situation with a disgruntled, irresponsible teenager who is going to bring something into the world that’s going to cost taxpayers a lot of money,” Varie told NBC News. Varie’s reference to the baby as a thing, not a person, speaks volumes about his fiscally driven mission. Even more telling is the fact that all charges of fornication were filed after the teens had applied for state assistance.
Kristin Lukar, author of “Dubious Conceptions,” warned in a Boston Globe article of “the symbolic use of these laws to demonize and punish the poor.” Indeed. And though the Idaho prosecutions are a clear-cut case of using old laws to go after welfare moms, there are even more incredible convictions on the books.
Georgia carpenter David Moseley was sentenced in 1988 to five years in a maximum security prison for performing oral sex on his estranged wife, Bette Roberts. Roberts had charged Moseley with rape in an attempt to gain custody of their two children. Even though her accusations were proved false in court, Moseley admitted to consensual cunnilingus, a felony in Georgia, while on the stand. Superior Court Judge William Ison informed the jury that oral sex constituted sodomy and Moseley found himself in prison alongside murderers, rapists and racketeers.
But such outrageous laws don’t exist in Minnesota, right? Think again. Although Alexandria men probably don’t think twice about ordering extra onions on a Hoagie sandwich, Minnesota law considers all forms of oral and anal sex sodomy, punishable by a year in jail and a $3,000 fine. Anyone engaging in any form of premarital sex is guilty of misdemeanor fornication.
These laws are usually enforced only in rape, incest or sexual abuse cases. But it only takes a conservative judge like Georgia’s Ison, or an overzealous prosecutor like Idaho’s Varie to change that. A law, once passed, can be invoked until it is removed. Legislators must be vigilant about repealing all archaic laws, not just those pertaining to sexual behavior.