Nine Michigan Republicans voted Wednesday to keep a nearly century-old state law that bars an unmarried woman and man from living with one another.
The bill to repeal the unenforced 1931 law ultimately passed 29-9 in the state’s Democrat-controlled Senate. But the fact that half of the state Senate’s GOP lawmakers voted to maintain the cohabitation ban made a number of Democrats scratch their heads.
“What year are they living in?” asked Michigan state Sen. Mallory McMorrow (D), according to MLive.
Michigan is one of two states in the country with a law that bars unwed couples from living together, according to a 2016 analysis for the state Senate.
The state’s cohabitation ban could find an unmarried man or woman “who lewdly and lasciviously associates and cohabits together” guilty of a misdemeanor with a maximum one-year prison sentence and maximum fine of $1,000.
The ban has implications for taxpayers. As Michigan state Sen. Stephanie Chang (D), who introduced the bill, noted, certain tax benefits are off-limits to people whose relationships violate local laws under the IRS tax code.
“This bill is not about a moral issue, it’s not about changing people’s behavior, it’s not about marriage rates ― it’s really just about bringing us into the 21st century,” Chang said, according to Bridge Michigan.
Under the new bill, there would be no penalties to an unwed couple over their cohabitation. It would not repeal the law’s penalties for “open and gross lewdness and lascivious behavior,” which apply to both married and unmarried people.
Republicans Michigan state Sen. Tho mas Albert said that the “policy of prohibiting cohabitation by having a criminal penalty is not good policy,” according to MLive. But he argued that a family structure without marriage “is not the optimal environment for raising children.”
“The problem with this reform is that it fails to recognize the secondary effects. … This is a policy I cannot get behind, because there is clear and overwhelming evidence to show that it is better for children to be in a household with married parents,” Albert said.
The bill is now set to head to Michigan’s House of Representatives and then would need a signature from Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer (D) to become law.