Monday, August 26, 2013

Weird and Strange Laws


Did you know that in Illinois it is illegal to have sex with a corpse? Or that in Michigan it is illegal to sell a duckling that has been dyed? Or that in New Mexico idiots are not allowed to vote, while in South Carolina a man can go to jail for a year for breaking a promise to marry a woman? There are hundreds of state laws that many might find to be weird, causing some to wonder about the story behind their passage. Every law was passed to solve a societal concern. In some cases that concern is shared by a large part of the population, while in other cases the law addresses an issue known to only a few. In still other cases the law was passed to address a concern once shared by many, but now shared by few.

The Illinois law that prohibits sex with a corpse was enacted on August 24, 2012. One might expect that the Illinois legislature visited this issue because of a recent uptick in Illinois of incidents of necrophilia which is the sexual attraction to or sex with a dead person. Illinois Representative Dan Beiser of Alton sponsored the bill. Outlawing necrophilia was added to a bill that sought to outlaw the unauthorized moving of corpses. There had been a number of cases where someone moved the bodies of people who died of drug overdoses before authorities could properly examine the scene, affecting criminal investigations. Rep. Beiser decided to add the language outlawing sex with corpses because he had heard that some time ago there was a case of a person having sex with a corpse. The person could not be prosecuted because there was no law prohibiting sex with a corpse. While many might agree that necrophilia should be against the law, when this law was passed there was no evidence that sex with corpses was a problem in Beiser's district or anywhere else in the Illinois.

There are some laws that are strange, but were enacted to address a real problem. In Michigan as in several other states it is illegal to sell chicks, ducklings or bunnies that have been dyed. At first glance this law seems strange. However, strange as it may seem jurisdictions passed this type of law in response to a real problem. Many pet stores dye baby chicks, ducklings and bunnies in the weeks leading up to Easter as a marketing ploy. Toxic dyes are sometimes used and the dying process is stressful to the animals. Animal rights advocates and others lobbied against this practice resulting the passage of similar laws in several states.

In the twenty-first century South Carolina's law that makes it illegal to break a promise to marry may seem quite odd. However, in 1905 when this statute was originally enacted all across the country there existed numerous laws that addressed issues of "decency" and "morality." This law like many other laws that were passed decades ago does not jibe with societal norms as it once did, but has not been repealed. Likewise, today's citizen may find it a bit strange to prohibit "idiots" from voting. However, according to Article VII, Section 1 of the New Mexico Constitution which was adopted in 1911, idiots cannot vote. The rationale behind this prohibition may have been that back in 1911 psychologists used the term idiot to refer to a person who had an extremely low I.Q. or perhaps suffered from a diagnosed mental incapacity, whereas today the word is used much more casually as an insult.
Laws that are strange to some have supporters who find them both reasonable and necessary. Perhaps the sponsor of such a law received support from his or her colleagues simply because there was no harm in passing the law. Even without statistical data to support the existence of a necrophilia problem, for example, it is probable that many members of the Illinois legislature became squeamish at the notion that since there was no law against it, having sex with a corpse was in fact legal. Further, passing the law likely had no economic component to it. So why not support it? Similarly, statutes like South Carolina's law prohibiting breaking a promise to marry that had been on the books for years but have long ago ceased being relevant are typically not being enforced. It is likely that most citizens as well as law enforcement personnel are not even aware of many of these outdated laws. Thus, there is no effort to repeal them. What do you think about these weird laws? Should legislatures make an effort to purge state codes of laws that have outlived their usefulness?


Post a Comment