1. Florida Politics

House, Senate committees pass bills allowing men, women to live together

Published Mar. 17, 2015

TALLAHASSEE — An unmarried man and unmarried woman decide to move in together. Under Florida law, they've committed a second-degree misdemeanor and can be fined or even sentenced to 60 days in jail.

That may change soon.

After false starts in previous sessions, state legislators are trying once more to repeal the so-called cohabitation ban, which has been on the books 147 years.

On Monday, committees in the Republican-controlled Florida House and Senate approved bills to strike the language from state statutes regulating "lewd and lascivious behavior."

"You could actually arrest somebody for living together without knowing any other piece of information about their relationship," said Rep. Michelle Rehwinkel Vasilinda, D-Tallahassee, a sponsor of the House bill.

The bills faced opposition from just one lawmaker in the House subcommittee and no one in the Senate, despite being sponsored by a pair of Democrats, Rehwinkel Vasilinda and Sen. Eleanor Sobel, D-Hollywood.

Rep. Charles Van Zant, R-Keystone Heights, voted against the House bill, saying it was contrary to biblical intentions for marriage by allowing men and women to live together without being married.

"In Scripture, God's first institution was marriage," he said. "It was not cohabitation. It was marriage between a man and a woman."

Last year, similar bills made it to the same point in the legislative process, passing the first committee in each chamber with bipartisan support and never advancing beyond that.

The 1868 statute against cohabitation also includes language that bans "open and gross" sexual behavior. That provision would be removed in Sobel's bill but not Rehwinkel Vasilinda's.

Florida is one of just three states to ban cohabitation, along with Michigan and Mississippi. Repealing the law is past due, Sobel said.

"Times have changed," she said. "Currently, over half a million couples in Florida are breaking this law as we speak. The government should not intrude into the private lives of consenting adults."

Contact Michael Auslen at Follow @MichaelAuslen.