American Culture /

Nine Michigan Senators Vote to Keep Law Prohibiting Premarital Co-Habitation

'Having a criminal penalty for cohabitation is not good policy, but this bill has potential consequences beyond that,' said state Senator Thomas Albert

A group of Republican lawmakers in Michigan voted to keep a law that prohibits men and women from living together before marriage.

The law was originally passed in 1931 and is punishable by up to one year in prison and a $1,000 fine. The policy is not enforced.

The nine state senators, all Republicans, who voted against repealing Senate Bill 56 on April 19 were attacked for allegedly being out of touch with modern times.

Two of the senators argued keeping the law in effect would encourage marriage and strengthen families. 

Proponents of repealing the bill had argued the law prevents state residents who live together without being married from claiming their significant other as dependent because federal law only permits claims from individuals whose relationship meets state requirements, per The Detroit News

Senator Stephanie Chang, the Democrat co-sponsor of the repeal effort, said ending the law will “help some individuals in [Michigan] by reducing their tax burden” and “place unmarried Michigan taxpayers on equal footing with taxpayers in almost every other state.”

Senator Thomas Albert, a Republican, said that he supported removing the criminal punishments from the law but did not support allowing unmarried couples to claim tax benefits. Albert said children who are raised by married parents fare better.

“Having a criminal penalty for cohabitation is not good policy, but this bill has potential consequences beyond that,” said Albert while speaking in the chamber. “It removes the bad from state law without an effort to keep what is good.” 

“I very easily would be a ‘yes’ on this bill if the tax structure continued to encourage marriage,” he added.

“This bill is very representative of where we are as a nation and as a culture,” said Senator Ed Broom, who said he supported laws that promote “good morals.”

Bridge Michigan, a nonprofit journalism enterprise that focuses on watchdog reporting, described the law as an “archaic statute” that is “the latest in a series of ‘zombie laws’ that new Democratic majorities in Lansing are working to repeal.”

“This bill is not about a moral issue, it’s not about changing people’s behavior, not about marriage rates,” said Chang while speaking from the floor speech on April 19. “It’s really just about bringing us into the 21st Century.” 

Laws prohibiting unmarried couples from living together were common throughout American history. Florida repealed its ban on cohabitation in 2016 – 148 years after it was initially enacted. At the time, five representatives voted to keep the provision in place and a similar ban was in effect in North Carolina.

“Cohabitation has increased by nearly 900 percent over the last 50 years,” reported The Atlantic in 2014. “Cohabitation has become so common that it’s almost odd not to test drive a partner before marriage.”

Today, Mississippi is the only other state in the nation to have a law prohibiting premarital cohabitation.

The effort to repeal the cohabitation restrictions ultimately succeeded in the Senate following a 29-9 vote. The measure now goes to the state’s House of Representatives for consideration.

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