The Utah State Legislature will consider a repeal of adultery and sodomy

Posted at 5:16 PM, Oct 30, 2018
and last updated 2018-10-31 11:17:39-04

SALT LAKE CITY -- A legislative task force has recommended repealing crimes against adultery and sodomy among consenting adults in Utah.

The Utah State Legislature's Criminal Code Task Force unanimously advanced a bill on Monday that would make tweaks to state law, removing outdated code and modifying others. Among the changes were repealing the criminal offenses of adultery and sodomy.

"Those have been found unconstitutional by the Supreme Court," said Rep. Paul Ray, R-Clearfield.

The Utah State Code that prohibits adultery in the state. (Photo by Ben Winslow, FOX 13 News)

Under "Offenses Against the Family" in Utah State Code, adultery is a class B misdemeanor, punishable by up to six months in jail and fines. But in reality, it is rarely prosecuted. Still, FOX 13 found some arrests for it dating back to the early 20th century and as recently as last year (but prosecutors did not pursue it as a criminal charge itself).

In 2003, the U.S. Supreme Court struck down laws against sodomy, declaring that states cannot tell consenting adults what they can do in the bedroom. But Utah kept its laws on the books.

In 2007, then-Sen. Scott McCoy, D-Salt Lake City, tried to push a repeal of the sodomy law. Social conservatives and the Republican-dominated Utah State Legislature pushed back, and the bill went nowhere.

Times have changed.

"I'm not going to get into a huge battle and spend taxpayer dollars on an issue that really, in the long run, doesn't matter either way," Rep. Ray told FOX 13.

The LGBTQ rights group Equality Utah praised the decision.

"It’s long past time that Utah code reflected the legal precedent established fifteen years ago by the U.S. Supreme Court. Love between consenting same-sex adults should never be stigmatized or criminalized. We hope that the Legislature supports this repeal during the next session," said Troy Williams, the group's director.

Laura Bunker of the social conservative group United Families International said they were taking no position on the bill.

"We'll just let it go," she told FOX 13.

Rep. Ray still anticipated some pushback, but insisted the laws were outdated and largely unenforceable.

"That's something we expect," he said. "We can run amendments on the bill if it gets too heated."

Also included in the bill was a move to offer immunity in prostitution-related cases who report more serious crimes like murder, kidnapping, human or sex trafficking. The recommendation was pressed by a group called the Magdalene Collective, which advocates for the rights of sex workers.

"This helps not only keep them safe, but the whole community safe because we can look out for each other better," said Nicole Maestas, one of the founders of the Magdalene Collective.

The Utah State Code that prohibits adultery in the state. (Photo by Ben Winslow, FOX 13 News)

She suggested it would encourage victims and witnesses to step forward and report serious crimes without fear of themselves facing a sexual solicitation charge.

"Oftentimes, people who are in violation of the law are more at risk of having crimes committed against them because the perpetrator would know they're not able to report," she said.

The full Utah State Legislature will consider the bill during the 2019 session that begins in January. The task force's unanimous vote actually moves the bill through the legislative process.