- The Washington Times - Monday, January 22, 2007

BISMARCK, N.D. — In North Dakota, a man and woman who live together without being married are committing a sex crime. It’s right there in the law, a state senator says, alongside the prohibitions against adultery, incest and indecent exposure.

Sen. Tracy Potter, a freshman Democrat from Bismarck, is asking the state legislature to end North Dakota’s status as one of seven states that have anti-cohabitation laws on the books. It has rejected three such attempts since 1990.

“Mark Twain expressed a simple view of people’s personal relationships with government … that I think government should adopt. That is, I don’t care what you do, as long as you don’t scare the horses,” Mr. Potter said last week during a North Dakota Senate Judiciary Committee hearing on his repeal measure.

In North Dakota, census data indicate at least 23,000 of the state’s 642,000 residents are living together as opposite-sex partners.

The state has prohibited opposite-sex couples from living “openly and notoriously” as if they were married since North Dakota became a state in 1889. Florida, Michigan, Mississippi, North Carolina, Virginia and West Virginia have similar laws.

Lawyers say North Dakota’s law has never been vigorously enforced. There is only one North Dakota Supreme Court decision on the subject, a 1938 case in which the justices upheld the cohabitation convictions of a man and woman who had been living together in the back of their secondhand store.

“If we mean to enforce this law, we’ll need a $10 billion prison,” Mr. Potter said. “We really don’t want to enforce the law, and if we don’t mean to enforce it, it’s an insult to law enforcement to keep it on the books.”

But state lawmakers did endorse a law six years ago allowing landlords to refuse to rent to opposite-sex couples who were not married.

Tom Freier, a spokesman for the North Dakota Family Alliance, said repealing North Dakota’s anti-cohabitation law would signal that the state doesn’t value marriage and the societal benefits it brings.

“If we look at the research, social science evidence suggests that living together is not a good way to prepare for marriage, or to avoid divorce,” Mr. Freier said. “Cohabitating is not positive for the family, and poses a special risk for women and children.”

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