Forget the budget or transportation. Some Richmond lawmakers went to the mat to prevent unmarried couples from living together and having sex without breaking the law. And on Wednesday, they lost.
By a 62-25** margin, the Virginia House of Delegates passed SB969, a bill that seeks to repeal a section of Virginia law that makes cohabitating or "lewdly and lasciviously associating" with a partner outside of marriage a crime.
Under current law, cohabitation by unmarried couples, straight or gay – or simply extramarital sex – is a misdemeanor punishable by a fine of $500 for the first offense; and by up to a year in jail, a fine of up to $2,500, or both, for a second offense.
Although the 19th century law is rarely enforced, it remains on the books and was used as recently as the 1990s to threaten a Norfolk daycare worker with the loss of her license for living with her boyfriend .
While current law makes no reference to sexual orientation, repealing the law will benefit same-sex couples as much as it does straight couples, since same-sex couples, even if legally married elsewhere, are considered unmarried, due to Virginia’s Marshall-Newman Amendment, which prevents the commonwealth from recognizing any form of same-sex partnership.
Although SB969 unanimously passed the Virginia Senate in January, it was less well received in the House of Delegates, where some members attempted to kill the bill by making a motion to send it back to committee. That motion failed.
Thirty-five Republicans and 27 Democrats voted in favor of the bill, while 21 Republicans, three Democrats and the House’s sole independent, Lacey Putney (Bedford, Alleghany, Botetourt counties), who caucuses with Republicans, voted against it. Eleven other Republicans and two Democrats did not vote.
Much of the opposition to the bill came delegates from the western half of the state, from Winchester down through Lynchburg, Roanoke, Blacksburg and Bristol, including some whose districts extend into Loudoun, Prince William and Fauquier counties in Northern Virginia. In all, 16 of the 25 "no" votes came from that region.
That tally of opponents includes six lawmakers – Dels. Terry Kilgore (R-Norton, Lee, Scott Wise counties); J. Randall Minchew (R-Clarke, Frederick, Loudoun counties); Todd Gilbert (R-Page, Rockingham, Shenandoah, Warren counties); Benjamin Cline (R-Amherst, Augusta, Bath, Rockbridge counties); Robert Bell (R-Albemarle, Fluvanna, Greene, Rockingham counties); and Joseph Johnson (D-Dickenson, Russell, Washington, Wise counties) – who previously voted in favor of the bill in committee.
The measure will now go before Gov. Bob McDonnell (R), who has said he supports ending the ban on cohabitation.
**UPDATE: The official tally, as reported by the House of Delegates, remains listed as 62-25 in favor of repealing the prohibition on cohabitation. A later clarification showed that five members (three in favor, two against) had been recorded as not voting, and one delegate, Lionel Spruill (D-Chesapeake, Suffolk) had been recorded as voting against the repeal when he intended to vote for it. With those votes taken into account, the bill's margin would have increased to 66-26, with eight Republicans not voting.
[Photo: Gay couple holding hands (Photo credit: Till Krech, courtesy Wikimedia Commons)]