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Adultery Has Been Historically Defined As a Sin, A Crime Or Both

The famous “Kinsey Study on Sexuality” compiled evidence between 1938-1963 sampling over five thousand couples. The Study concluded that 50% of all men and 26%of all women had extramarital sexual encounters. I don’t think those numbers are going down anytime soon.  In spite of those statistics, virtually all religions and cultures threaten punishment, excommunication and even death.The Sixth of the Ten Commandments for Christians and Jews expressly names adultery and puts it right up there with killing.

The majority of religions of the world all forbid adultery with varying definitions and punishments.  Nevertheless, the secular reasoning behind the offense of adultery was not to protect the chastity of a married woman. It is widely held that the offending character of adultery was that it corrupted the purity of a husband’s “line” hence the term adultery from the term “adulterate”(v): to corrupt or spoil.

The first reported punishment for adultery was in 324 B.C. and, in an ironic twist, the offending prince was sentenced to sodomy. In 18 BC Roman Emperor Augustus intended to elevate the moral order of Rome in the eyes of the people. He therefore enacted Lex Julia de Maritandis Omnibus. Fathers were permitted to kill offending daughters and likewise husbands could kill offending wives.

In modern American culture many view the Christian Right as unwavering in opposition to what they view as aberrant sexual behavior. It is therefore ironic that the Christian Roman Emperor Constantine repealed the adultery codes of Augustus as cruel.

In Islamic Shariah Law a married person guilty of adultery is subject to death by stoning and an unmarried person is subject to 100 lashes. In case you were concerned that death by stoning was too easy on the offending spouse, the law describes the specific size of the rocks to be used lest they be too small to do real damage, or too large lest they render the victim unconscious and abbreviate his mortal suffering.

With respect to the treatment of any unmarried “home wreckers” nations, religions and cultures part ways.  Some punish only the married person and others extend punishment to the unmarried offender. The Chinese Legal Code (Republic of China) as of 11/30/11 says adultery is a crime punishable by not more than one year in jail and the married and the unmarried persons are both subject to punishment.

Adultery is a criminal offense in the US military.  The Uniform Code of Military Justice forbids adultery under the “general Article” regarding misconduct. If an unmarried soldier is involved he/she can also be subject to penalty. In India, as of August 2003, only the man who commits the adultery may be prosecuted.  However, before you cheer for their tolerance,  you should know it is because a woman is held to be something less culpable almost like a child might be.

Finally in Maryland it is a crime only for the married participant.

Timothy Conlon, Esquire for The Custody Place.

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