A legislative proposal by Sen. Scott Surovell (D–Fairfax) would have seemed a no brainer in any legislative body. Surovell was seeking to decriminalize adultery in Virginia. As I have previously discussed (here and here), Virginia has an anachronistic and facially unconstitutional law that makes adultery a crime. Yet, the Virginia Senate killed the bill this month and reaffirmed its intention to criminalize what the majority deems immoral choices by consenting adults. Adultery will remain a Class 4 misdemeanor despite 13 other states that have repealed similar laws in recent years.
SB 174 would have reduced adultery from a criminal issue to a civil one. If even retained a small fine for those who have lingering desires to impose their moral judgment on others. To show that such morality laws are not the domain of Republicans alone, key Democrats like former gubernatorial hopeful Creigh Deeds of the 25th District joined in voting down Surovell measure.
Of course, adultery would remain an immoral act in the view of most people and one that can have tremendous consequences in divorce proceedings etc. However, the desire to declare neighbors “criminals” for not following state-mandated moral codes remains a very troubling element in our nation. Even conservatives who rail against government intervention and controls, willingly embrace the notion of prosecutors pursuing individuals for private consensual conduct. Ironically, these laws have done little to stop the high level of such relationships in society according to a wide array of studies. Yet, politicians still want to legislate morality despite the fact that most people would put politicians as the least compelling group for moral instructions.
Those of us who oppose the criminalization of moral code are not advocates for immorality but rather privacy. We can still condemn this conduct from our temples and churches and mosques. We can still denounce those who violate their vows. Yet, we should be equally adamant that it is not the government’s role to police the intimate consensual choices of adults in our society. While the Puritans had many redeemable qualities, their use of colonial laws to execute or beat or brand people for immorality was not one of them. This country has matured to the point that we can put away criminalized moral codes and leave such matters to individual citizens, their families and their respective faiths.