The Intricacies of Adultery Law in Minnesota

Downtown Minneapolis, Minnesota

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If you're married in Minnesota, think twice before you break those vows. We're not talking morally. We're talking legally. 

Adultery is against the law in Minnesota. At least, in some circumstances.

Current Minnesota state laws, enacted before Minnesota was a state, make adultery illegal.

"When a married woman has sexual intercourse with a man other than her husband, whether married or not, both are guilty of adultery and may be sentenced to imprisonment for not more than one year or to payment of a fine of not more than $3,000, or both."

But the statute goes on to say that prosecutions will not be brought unless the husband or wife involved makes a complaint to the authorities. There's a limit of one year after the adultery for a prosecution to be brought.

And the man involved isn't guilty if he was unaware of the marital status of the woman at the time.

And yes, according to this old law, it's just married women, not married men, who can commit adultery. Only women can technically commit this crime, and only with other men. The statute does not explicitly call it illegal for a married woman to have sex with another woman.

Some human rights activists and feminists argue this law should be removed from the legislature for being unfair and obsolete, although the Minnesota Family Council thinks that the law should be made fair by expanding it to apply to married men, too, believing that it will strengthen Minnesotan marriages.

Other Laws About Women and Sex

Women and sex are the subjects of another archaic law in Minnesota. This one makes it a crime for single women to have sex, at all.

"When any man and single woman have sexual intercourse with each other, each is guilty of fornication, which is a misdemeanor."

So, no sex for single women in Minnesota. It would seem that the only legal way for women to have sex in Minnesota is when married and with their husbands. And putting the two together makes it illegal for men (whether married or single) to have sex with single women, as well as for married women to have sex with other men. This just leaves sex with your husband or wife.

Or with a person of the same gender. Same-sex sexual activity was made legal in Minnesota in 2001. Same-sex marriage became legal in Minnesota in 2013. But as the old sex laws specifically refer to a "man and a woman," it's unclear how they might apply to homosexual couples.

Before 2001, sodomy was illegal in Minnesota. In the '20s, Minnesota even added fellatio to the crime. 

Premarital Sex

In contrast to the liquor laws, Minnesota's adultery laws are never enforced. In some states where adultery is illegal, the law may be used in divorce cases. But unlike in some other states, Minnesota is a purely "no-fault" divorce state. That means that neither party has to prove fault or blame for a marriage's failure, and whether one or both spouses have committed adultery or not is irrelevant to the divorce proceedings.

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