Bill to decriminalize fornication on way to Gov. Herbert’s desk

Utah Capitol 14

Well, fornication is now legal in Utah – if GOP Gov. Gary Herbert agrees.

Of course, it’s been the case for some time that Utah prosecutors/courts could not enforce Utah’s “fornication” statute – ruled unconstitutional by various court cases.

But in a “clean-up” part of the criminal code bill, SB43, the actual old law making it a crime to “fornicate” was struck.

The law reads: 76-7-104.  Fornication. 


Any unmarried person who shall voluntarily engage in sexual intercourse with another is guilty of fornication.


Fornication is a class B misdemeanor.

That language is now struck from state law.

The bill does several things, including making stronger battles against opioid misuse.

Rep. Merrill Nelson, a Republican attorney from Grantsville, noted that “tucked away” at the very bottom of SB43 was the striking of the crime of “fornication” or illegal sex between unmarried adults.

While the criminal act of fornication may not be enforceable – and hasn’t been prosecuted for years – Nelson said such “moral” prohibitions can be a statement by government about what legislators believe should be standards for society.

And there could be value in keeping such measures on the books – while not enforceable — to still show a society’s preferences.

“Do we really want to do this?” asked Nelson, who earlier this session had a bill that would have stopped state judges from allowing a transgender person from changing their official birth certificate with their “new” gender preference. He later dropped that bill after significant opposition from LGBTQ rights groups.

Rep. Keven Stratton, R-Orem, said not all the armies in the world are strong enough to rule an immoral people.

“This (bill) goes into an area I’m not comfortable with,” he added.

So, what was originally a rather simple bill aimed at removing from Utah code all kinds of “crimes” that can no longer be enforced by prosecutors, turned into a question of Utah’s moral character.

SB43 still passed, 41-32, with a number of conservative House Republicans voting against it.

And now goes to Herbert, who can sign it, let it become law without his signature, or veto it.