The repeal of an antiquated, unenforced Michigan statute on cohabitation received unexpected pushback in the Senate Wednesday, as several Republicans argued in support of the century-old statute that criminalizes unmarried couples living together.
Senate Bill 56 would amend Section 750.335 of the 1931 Michigan Penal Code, which currently states: “Any man or woman, not being married to each other, who lewdly and lasciviously associates and cohabits together … is guilty of a misdemeanor punishable by imprisonment for not more than 1 year, or a fine of not more than $1,000.00.”
Though the law is rarely enforced, state Sen. Stephanie Chang (D-Detroit) said she introduced SB 56 to change it in order to “[bring] us into the 21st century” and update the books.
SB 56 essentially clears the statute of its references to cohabitation, while keeping the language that still penalizes any individuals “guilty of open and gross lewdness and lascivious behavior.”
The bill cleared the Democratic-controlled chamber Wednesday with a vote of 29-9. All no votes were Republicans: Sens. Thomas Albert (R-Lowell), Jim Runestad (R-White Lake), Roger Victory (R-Georgetown Twp.), John Damoose (R-Harbor Springs), Ed McBroom (R-Vulcan), Dan Lauwers (R-Brockway), Jonathan Lindsey (R-Coldwater), Kevin Daley (R-Lum) and Lana Theis (R-Brighton).
Chang said Michigan is one of just two states in the country that still has a law on the book prohibiting unmarried men and women from living together.
In his no-vote explanation, Albert said that while he believes that criminalizing cohabitation is a “foolish policy,” he does support the statute overall as he believes it was “enacted in order to encourage marriage.”
“I very easily would be a yes on this bill if the tax structure continued to encourage marriage,” Albert said, citing benefits for children who grow up in a household with married parents.
“Federal law prevents taxpayers from claiming some dependent if their relationship violates state law. The bill before us today would clear the way for two unmarried individuals living together to meet dependency requirements and claim those tax benefits,” he continued.
Referencing popular television shows and movies in the 1970s and 1980s, state Sen. Ed McBroom (R-Vulcan) also spoke of his support for married households.
“This law was not passed to be mean or stodgy. It was passed because it was better for society, and particularly for children,” McBroom said. He said its forthcoming repeal is emblematic of society’s worsening moral issues.
“I wasn’t anticipating a floor discussion about this bill,” Chang said after Albert and McBroom voiced their opposition.
“This law will help some individuals in our state by reducing their taxpayer burden,” Chang said. “It’ll place unmarried Michigan taxpayers on equal footing with tax brackets in almost every other state.”
SB 56 now heads to the Michigan House for consideration.
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