Florida couples can be arrested if caught living together before marriage

(Source: Shutterstock)
(Source: Shutterstock)
(Source: Shutterstock)

FLORIDA — Hundreds of Floridians are being fined and imprisoned for the crime of living with a romantic partner without government permission, thanks to an old-time cohabitation law that is still in effect.

As stated in Chapter 798 of the Florida Statutes:

798.02 Lewd and lascivious behavior.—If any man and woman, not being married to each other, lewdly and lasciviously associate and cohabit together, or if any man or woman, married or unmarried, engages in open and gross lewdness and lascivious behavior, they shall be guilty of a misdemeanor of the second degree, punishable as provided in s. 775.082 or s. 775.083.

Second-degree misdemeanors in Florida are punished by fines of $500 or up to 60 days in jail.

The law dates back over a century, crafted by authoritarians bent on using the state as a mechanism for social engineering and population control. The state’s primary means to this end was in forcing citizens to get permission to marry, in the form of marriage licenses. To prevent certain “undesirable” pairings of citizens, the state was empowered to deny couples the right to marry each other.

But a “loophole” remained, and in 1868, the state closed it by prohibiting unwed couples from living together. In conjunction with marriage control, the state maintained broad powers to punish citizens for following their love interests.

Originally, the laws were used to arbitrarily prevent racial mixing and intra-familial marriage, and to promote eugenics. The state at one time would go so far as to demand blood samples from marriage license applicants, ostensibly to prevent people with certain illnesses from marrying their partners and procreating.

Today, marriage licensing is primarily used as a tax on happiness, and cohabitation laws are used to selectively punish couples of any racial or medical status.

Indeed, Florida’s cohabitation law is still actively enforced. Between 2007 and 2011, nearly 700 Florida residents were charged with misdemeanors for living together, WCTV reported.

The enforcement process remains extremely arbitrary, as there are undoubtedly hundreds of thousands of unmarried residents living together in Florida who have not been charged. There is be no practical manner for distinguishing a romantic couple from a pair of platonic male and female roommates. Interestingly, the law doesn’t punish same-sex couples living together.

Despite several attempts, Florida reformers have not been successful at repealing the law in the legislature.

Of note, cheating on one’s spouse is also a crime in Florida. If one partner commits adultery, both partners can go to jail. However, this prohibition is seldom enforced.

798.01 Living in open adultery.—Whoever lives in an open state of adultery shall be guilty of a misdemeanor of the second degree, punishable as provided in s. 775.082 or s. 775.083. Where either of the parties living in an open state of adultery is married, both parties so living shall be deemed to be guilty of the offense provided for in this section.

Make no mistake, Florida is not alone in its history of draconian social controls. Such outdated, freedom-restricting prohibitions should be rooted out of existence before they have the chance to punish any oppress any further victims.

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