TALLAHASSEE --A bill to repeal Florida's 148-year ban on couples shacking up together is headed to Gov. Rick Scott.
The House voted 112-5 on Wednesday to repeal the state's rarely enforced prohibition on cohabitation. The bill repeals part of Florida statute 798.02 covering lewd and lascivious behavior. It would remove the part applying to "any man and woman, not being married to each other, lewdly and lasciviously associate and cohabitate together."
According to 2014 census data, there are nearly 438,000 unmarried male-female couples among 7.3 million Florida households.
Florida legislators have tried since 2011 to repeal the ban but have been unsuccessful.
"It's about time it came off the books. There were no questions or debate on it thank goodness," said House Democratic leader Mark Pafford.
The law has been on the books since 1868 with the penalty of a second-degree misdemeanor punishable by either a $500 fine or 60 days in jail. According to Florida's Department of Law Enforcement there were 308 couples arrested for cohabitating from 2011-14, with most taking place in Dade (140) and Pinellas (89) counties. However, there wasn't a differentiation if the arrest applied to the outdated law or whether they were taking part in "public lewd and lascivious behavior," which would still be against the law for married and unmarried couples.
"The arguments I made to my colleagues as to how a suspected violation would have to be investigated and prosecuted painted a specter of government intrusion that was repugnant to them," said Rep. Michelle Rehwinkel Vaslinda of Tallahassee, who sponsored the bill. "The very language of disallowing a man or woman to live together became more obviously discriminatory in light of changes in law and some attitudes with regard to same sex couples (which was permissible under the law)."
According to census data, there are 37,000 same-sex couples in Florida.
Rehwinkel Vasilinda also thought it being the last session for her and state Sen. Eleanor Sobel of Hollywood might have helped in it getting passed. Both are Democrats.
If Scott signs it into law, Michigan and Mississippi would remain the only states that would have a law making cohabitation illegal.
A spokeswoman for Gov. Scott said they are reviewing the bill.