Shacking up may not be illegal for much longer

Posted at 12:01 AM, Jan 29, 2013
and last updated 2013-01-29 17:43:09-05

RICHMOND, Va. (WTVR)--Shacking up? An estimated 140,000 Virginians or more sleeping together out of wedlock could be breaking the law – but probably not for much longer.

Virginia is just one of a few states with a “lewd and lascivious cohabitation” statute, and a state Senator from Alexandria believes it’s time the sun sets on the 136-year-old law.

“It’s an obsolete law that needed to be repealed and came to my attention last year, said Sen. Adam Ebbin, (D-30th District). “We’ve got to bring Virginia up to the 21st century whenever we can.”

Ebbin’s bill passed unanimously Monday in a Senate justice committee and will likely sail through the Senate.

“Though the House is much more conservative,” Ebbin said, “I’m hopeful people in the House will recognize that this is a  vestige of a different time.”

While the statute is often characterized as the anti-cohabitation law, it’s real intent was cracking down on those who engage in open, indecent, lewd, wanton and demoralizing acts, whether they’re married or not.

In other words, keep your curtains drawn.

It hasn’t been enforced, apparently, since the 1990s, when day care operator Darlene Davis had her business license held up because she was living with her man. The ACLU successfully backed the state down.

The statute has been one of those lingering legal curiosities, like the law against washing your mule on the sidewalk in Culpepper, having sex with the lights on and Virginia’s many Bible-based statutes, like no hunting on Sundays, its long history of blue laws and our famous anti-sodomy statute, which is technically still on the books but was struck down by the U.S. Supreme Court a decade ago.

Virginia has been kind of virginal when it comes to hanky panky. In 1778, Thomas Jefferson proposed a law that would punish men engaging in sodomy with castration, but the General Assembly didn’t want to soften the law at the time, which was death.

Ebbin, the first openly gay state Senator, has also co-sponsored Senate Bill 701 to protect Virginia’s lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender state employees from workplace discrimination.

Speaking about that bill. Ebbin has said, “it is time that Virginia law reflect the opinion of its citizenry.”

Monday afternoon he quoted a study that indicates roughly half of all couples cohabitate as some point.

“About 50 percent of men and women, by the time they are 44, have lived with a partner outside of marriage,” Ebbin said. “And that’s straight people. When you count gay people, it’s even higher.”