New York legislature votes to abolish adultery law from 1907 News
Kenneth C. Zirkel, CC BY-SA 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons
New York legislature votes to abolish adultery law from 1907

New York’s Senate on Wednesday overwhelmingly approved a bill to repeal a largely unused law from 1907 that made adultery a criminal offense. The bill, which passed the State Assembly earlier this year, now goes to New York Governor Kathy Hochul. If signed, the adultery statute will be immediately repealed.

Senate Bill S8744 repeals New York Penal Law Section 255.17. The section defined the act of adultery as when a person “engages in sexual intercourse with another person at a time when he has a living spouse, or the other person has a living spouse.” The law stated that the offense was a Class B misdemeanor punishable by up to three months imprisonment.

The repeal was sponsored by State Senator Liz Krueger who represents portions of New York City. The bill states the purpose of repealing the law is to remove an “outdated statute criminaliz[ing] sexual behavior between consenting adults.” Additionally, the Class B classification had important impacts on an offender’s due process. Under New York criminal trial procedure, defendants charged with a Class B misdemeanor have a right to a jury trial only if they live outside of New York City. All defendants living within New York City do not have a right to a trial by jury and are instead tried by a judge.

Several states have laws criminalizing adultery. Arizona lists the offense as a Class 3 misdemeanor, but unlike New York does not seek prosecution unless a complaint is filed by one of the spouses. Oklahoma treats adultery as a felony punishable by up to five years imprisonment and/or a $500 fine.