The Colorado legislature is considering the repeal of laws in the state that criminalize adultery or any act that would “promote sexual immorality.” According to Lynn Bartels of The Denver Post, the process of repeal is now well underway, with the House Judiciary Committee voting 8-3 to take adultery and sexual immorality out of the criminal code in Colorado.
Missing from the legislative debate, at least as reported in the media, is any acknowledgment of how such statutes entered the law books in the first place. Throughout most of human history, morality and law were united and in agreement when it came to the reality of adultery and the larger context of sexual immorality. Laws criminalizing adultery were adopted because the society believed that marriage was central to its own existence and flourishing, and that adultery represented a dagger struck at the heart of the society, as well as the heart of marriage.
Marriage was not considered merely a private arrangement. Every society regulates marriage, and most have adopted clear and punitive sanctions against adultery. But the moral and cultural revolutions of the past several decades have shifted the meaning of marriage from a public institution to a private contract.
Rep. Daniel Kagan (Democrat of Cherry Hills Village) seemed to be completely unaware that his own state had once considered adultery to be a sin of public consequence. “Adultery is a matter between a person and their spouse and their conscience and their minister, but not between a person and the full enforcement of the state of Colorado,” he said. He concluded: “Let’s keep the police out of our bedrooms.”
Well, the police have not conducted adultery raids in some time, Rep. Kagan. The law in Colorado criminalizes adultery, but includes no penalty. The law has been, at a bare minimum, a reminder of the public nature of marriage and the societal threat of adultery.
The sexual revolution and our cultural addiction to autonomous individualism has changed all that, but that moral shift should not go unnoticed. We are now reaping the inevitable result of treating marriage as a merely private affair, and adultery as a merely private sin. The action in the Colorado legislature is just a sign of what has already taken place in the larger culture.
Publication date: March 5, 2013