Columns

Florida state rep wants anti-cohabitation law to remain in effect


Cohabitation has its setbacks | Illustration by Callie Parrish

Cohabitation has its setbacks | Illustration by Callie Parrish

There are a lot of strange laws on the books across the US. In Houston, for instance, it is illegal to sell Limburger cheese on Sunday. Don’t expect a SWAT team in your local deli though – these outdated laws are rarely, if ever, enforced.

Florida, like many states, has a handful of these laws — including Florida Statute 798.02. It states,“If any man or woman, not being married to each other, lewdly and lasciviously associate and cohabit together (…) they shall be guilty of a misdemeanor of the second degree.”

State Rep. Ritch Workman of Melbourne, Fla., is working to repeal this and several other frivolous state laws. Surprisingly, Workman has met with opposition from fellow Republicans. His colleague, Rep. Dennis Baxley of Ocala, Fla., claims he’s “not ready to give up on monogamy and a cultural statement that marriage still matters.”

Unfortunately for Rep. Baxley, the rest of the US doesn’t see cohabitation as a threat to marriage.

According to the US Census Bureau, cohabitation rates have increased ten-fold since 1960, and many couples see living together as a state of pre-marriage. The Annual Review of Sociology reports that 75 percent of cohabitating couples plan to marry in the future, and 55 percent of them do.

These couples may or may not choose to marry later on, but the data indicates that to these cohabitating couples, marriage does still matter.

Though cohabitation rates have risen in all demographic groups, living together has become quite popular with older college students. With students’ low incomes and busy schedules, sometimes it makes more sense for them to live together.

Most students today see no problem with living together before marriage, nor do they have a problem with living together long-term without getting married at all.

Regardless of one’s feelings on the subject, it is clear that laws attempting to legislate such personal decisions are anachronistic. Baxley is wrong about cohabitating couples. A couple may or may not plan to marry in the future, but that doesn’t mean they are not monogamous. If they choose not to be married or monogamous, that is hardly the concern of state legislators. Americans do not want their government wasting resources legislating personal choices.

In a NBC/Wall Street Journal poll, respondents were asked which of a set of issues, such as job creation, the deficit, national security and social issues, they felt should be the nation’s top priority. Less than two percent of them chose social issues. In a similar CBS/ORC poll, less than one percent of the respondents were concerned about social issues such as same-sex marriage.

Florida has become the latest stage in an ongoing rift in the GOP between small government conservatives like Workman, who believe the government should limit its reach as much as possible, and social conservatives like Baxley, who would very much like to legislate in your bedroom.

Some attempt to straddle the line — one minute demanding complete deregulation and the next fighting to eliminate reproductive rights or to create an amendment forbidding same-sex marriage.

For social conservatives, small government is an à la carte issue. The government should be smaller while attempting to regulate businesses or environmental protection, but larger for issues like same-sex marriage or even cohabitation.

Where this ideological dissonance will take the GOP is a matter for another day, but Americans seem to agree with Workman on efforts to legislate cohabitation and sexual morality.

Emily Brooks is an economics senior and may be reached at opinion@thedailycougar.com.


  • Dennis

    This law is ridiculous in todays culture, our government definitely does not belong in the business of regulating personal relationships !

  • Dee

    The law cannot be enforced ,or even if it could not worth the cost. You cannot legislate morality. Would be nice (assuming it's my idea of morality) but it will not happen and should not happen. Unless people start being more responsible for their actions any law will not help. Besides too many women become single mothers and get on the dole. If they marry they may no longer get that money. Too bad but true. Thanks for listening.

  • Aseyecit

    @Dee – I disagree with your statement that the law cannot be enforced. F.S. 798.02 is valid and enforcable law. People have been charged with it's violation and will continue to be charged until it is modified or removed. I am in favor of it being modified as there are lifetime alimony payers who need this law to help them get the justice they deserve when the ex spouses cohabitate just so they can continue to receive the monthly payment. This is wrong and needs to be changed.

Back to Top ↑