Frickin’ laws

Swearing in front of women and children is illegal in Michigan. So is playing the "Star Spangled Banner" in a medley. If a woman works somewhere that's detrimental to her "potential capacity for motherhood," it's a crime.

Also, acts of "gross indecency" are illegal in Michigan too. Cohabitating? That is too.

A group of Democratic state representatives thinks these are unenforceable, arcane statutes that should be off the Michigan books and introduced legislation in Lansing last month to repeal them.

"We have some things here that are just antiquated Michigan laws," says Rep. Steve Tobocman, D-Detroit, one of the chief sponsors.

Not to mention unconstitutional. There are still remnants of a First Amendment that allow us to say "goddamnit" without fear of an arrest and trial. Still, Michigan's "cursing canoeist" was prosecuted in 1999 for swearing in front of women and children after he fell out of his boat. In 2002, a Michigan appeals court struck down the law, but it remains on the books.

Rep. Paul Condino, D-Southfield, a co-sponsor of the package, would like to add Michigan's sodomy law to the list of repeal targets. The U.S. Supreme Court ruled three years ago that a Texas law prohibiting anal sex between consenting adults was unconstitutional. Michigan still has its law on the books.

If the bill to nix Michigan's gross indecency statute "ever, ever has a committee hearing, which I would hope that it does, I would absolutely make that amendment and make it very specific," Condino says.

Rep. William VanRegenmorter, R-Hudsonville, the chair of the house judiciary committee, says no hearings are scheduled for the package of repeal bills. Yet.

"We're looking at what can reasonably be done in the remaining months and days in session. We'll be looking at these along with a huge number of others. Once we do, we'll make some decisions about whether they should go further, whether they need changes, whether they should be addressed at all," he says.

Records are not kept on the number of arrests, trials or convictions related to the laws, but Condino says even if no one is arrested, the laws should go away.

"We're supposed to be a government of laws, and they're supposed to reflect the attitude of the people. I don't think these do," he says.

A Michigan law prohibiting co-habitation made headlines last year when a woman tried to use it to limit her ex-husband's visitation with their children while he was living with another woman.

"The whole idea of penalizing cohabitation at all in today's society had no relevancy and is disrespectful to families in this day and age," Condino says.

Some of the current sponsors of the repeal bills introduced similar legislation three years ago but it died in committee. Supporters admit Lansing's conservative political environment may not have changed much since , but they're hoping for a chance with a lame duck Legislature. The House won't reconvene until after the November election when at least 27 of the 110 seats will turn over due to current vacancies, term limits and representatives seeking other offices.

State politics is so polarized by the left and the right "that it might be even more important now to push this fight," Condino says. "Most of Michigan is not in the right-wing or left-wing and doesn't want to support unconstitutional statutes and laws and doesn't want government in the bedroom."

The Triangle Foundation, an ardent supporter of the previous attempt to repeal the gross indecency provision, is again supporting the effort, says Sean Kosofsky, director of policy.

"I don't think we've met any moderate and sensible legislator who doesn't want to get rid of them," he says.

Critics of the gross indecency law say it is disproportionately applied to homosexuals. Tobocman cites the situation of a police officer finding couples making out in parked cars.

"If it's a heterosexual couple, it's like, 'Ha-ha, why don't you go home?' and they get a warning," he says. But gay would be more likely to be charged.

"The gross indecency law is unfortunately used often times to unfairly punish folks," Tobocman says.

And that's really indecent.

News Hits is edited by Curt Guyette. Contact the column at 313-202-8004 or [email protected]
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