Governor Kathy Hochul will get to decide if adultery should be decriminalized in New York State.

A rare bipartisan movement was sent through the New York Legislature to repeal the more than century-old law that classified adultery as a misdemeanor.

New York first classified adultery as a misdemeanor crime in 1907.  Those found guilty of committing the crime faced up to 90 days in prison and a fine up to $500.

The Reason Why New York Criminalized Adultery

(Photo by Carl Court/Getty Images)
(Photo by Carl Court/Getty Images)

New York and other states passed laws making cheating a crime in order to curb divorce rates, as found in an old The New York Times article from 1907. Back then, citing adultery was the only way to legally obtain an absolute separation.

Politicians believed too many couples "colluded" together to end their marriages and that was why the court system was "overcrowded with uncontested divorce cases."

The Times reported:

The new statute declares the very ground for divorce a criminal act. It is intended to put a stop to collusive divorces.

The law also allowed courts to open criminal proceedings against couples suspected of colluding together and using adultery to legally separate.

Additionally, the law allowed a person accused of cheating on their spouse to be criminally investigated "simultaneously with the civil suit for a divorce."

Lastly, because adultery was classified as a B misdemeanor, those accused of adultery were not entitled to a jury of their peers and instead had to stand before a judge

Who Was Charged with Adultery in New York?

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There's only a few records of people being charged with adultery in New York.

According to an article from The Times, the first time the law was applied was against a 40-year-old man and his 25-year-old mistress a few weeks after it went in effect.

The man was identified as Patrick Henry Hirsch, a wealthy oil railroad contractor and an Coney Island investor. Reports say he and Ruby Yeargin, a saleswoman from Chicago, began seeing each other in 1904 moved in together at a "luxurious apartment" in New York. The building refused to rent out to unwed couples, so Ruby claimed to be the real "Mrs. Hirsch."

Elizabeth Hirsch, Mr. Hirsch's actual spouse, soon learned her husband was off playing happy family and had him arrested. It also didn't help that Mr. Hirsch took their son to live with them and instructed the young boy to address Yeargin as his mother.

Yeargin's true identity was exposed and the landlord took away their keys. She was arrested shortly after and a truck loaded up all of her and Mr. Hirsch's belongings.

In 1976, Barbara Schlachet was charged with adultery for engaging in an affair after separating from her husband, but information on this case is limited.

The last time anyone in New York was charged with adultery was in 2010, when a 43-year-old woman was found having sexual relations with a coworker on a picnic table in a public park in full view of children. The woman, identified as Suzanne Corona, was charged with adultery.

According to ABC News, she and 29-year-old Justin Amend ultimately took a plea deal for public lewdness, which is a lesser charge.

Why New York Wants to Legalize Adultery Now

Getty Images
Getty Images

North Shore Assemblyman Charles "Chuck" Lavine, a Democrat, introduced legislation earlier this month to officially strike the law from the books. The bill, which is found under A.4714, aims to "repeal and decriminalize the act of adultery in the State of New York."

He said the law is not only "archaic," but it is rarely enforced. According to the Democrat, just 13 people have been charged with the crime since 1973 and only five were convicted.

In virtually every one of those cases, there was some other crime involved, and the prosecuting attorney added adultery as just one of many crimes committed.

According to Lavine, the law is "never" enforced and that it gives the government a power it never should have had in the first place.

"The state has no business regulating consensual sexual behavior between adults," he said.

A majority of state lawmakers agree with him and the bill passed unanimously from the Codes Committee, who forwarded it to the full chamber. The bill earned strong bipartisan support and passed on a vote of 137-10 in Assembly.

The law has since cleared the Senate on a near-unanimous vote and now sits on Governor Kathy Hochul's desk.

Is This The First Time New York Tried Abolishing The Adultery Law?

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Lavine's bill is the first successful attempt to decriminalize adultery in New York. Efforts to repeal the legislation date back to 1964.

A legislative commission was tasked with eliminating outdated laws in order to update the state's penal code, according to an article from The Times. It was met with opposition from members who felt keeping the law in place would serve "as an expression of society's disapproval of those acts."

Despite keeping the anti-adultery law in the books, the commission agreed enforcing it would be difficult and that may explain why only a handful of New Yorkers were successfully charged with the crime.

This is interesting considering New York is the 13th most adulterous state in the country, and Buffalo was ranked the 11th most unfaithful city in America.

Read More: One City in NY Makes Top 20 of "Most Unfaithful" List

While New York is poised to strike the law, there are several other states with a similar penal code. According to Criminal Law, the states that still list adultery as a crime include Arizona, Florida, Georgia, Kansas, Illinois, Michigan, Minnesota, Mississippi, North Carolina, Oklahoma, South Carolina, and Wisconsin.

Of these states; Michigan, Oklahoma, and Wisconsin categorize adultery as a felony offense.

Colorado, Idaho, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, Washington D.C., West Virginia, and Utah have recently decriminalized cheating.

What do you think? Is it time New York updated its legal stance on cheating or do you see a benefit for keeping this law? Sound off in the comments below.

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