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House advances bill striking crime of adultery from books

Del. Kathleen M. Dumais, D-Montgomery. (File photo)

Del. Kathleen M. Dumais, D-Montgomery, sponsored the House bill to repeal the crime of adultery. (File photo)

A bill to repeal the crime of adultery passed the Maryland House of Delegates for the second straight year and will head to the Senate committee where it stalled in 2018.

House Bill 281, sponsored by Del. Kathleen M. Dumais, D-Montgomery, would remove the crime from the books. At present it is a misdemeanor subject to a $10 fine.

Dumais called the law “archaic” earlier this month when speaking to the House Judiciary Committee. She was not immediately available for comment Friday.

On Friday, the House voted 106-35 in favor of the bill. It will now go before the Senate Judicial Proceedings Committee, where it faced opposition from supporters of the idea that the crime of adultery allows parties in divorce proceedings to “plead the Fifth” when accused of infidelity.

Delegates did not debate the legislation Friday before the vote. The bill does not affect adultery as a ground for divorce or as a type of fault, which can factor into negotiations and custody disputes.

Last year, Sen. Robert A. “Bobby” Zirkin, D-Baltimore County and chair of the Senate Judicial Proceedings Committee, said it was his understanding that the crime remains on the books in part to allow a party to a divorce to cite his or her Fifth Amendment privilege against self-incrimination if asked about adultery.

Dumais, a family law attorney, told the Judiciary Committee on Feb. 7 that if clients have had an extramarital affair she advises them to disclose it rather than exercise their Fifth Amendment right, because the only question is whether the adultery contributed to the breakup or harmed any minor children. Plus, she said, other evidence that an affair took place is usually available.

Zirkin was not immediately available for comment Friday.

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