A Crackdown on Lovers in New York

by Ray Setterfield

Event Date: January 8, 1902
Location: New York City, New York, USA

New York, “the city that never sleeps,” is known as one of the free, fun capitals of the world where almost anything goes. It’s a good job, then, that the city authorities turn a blind eye to a number of restrictive laws that are still on the Statute Book of the “Big Apple”. On this day, for instance, the New York State Legislature outlawed flirting in public.

The new law, which technically still exists, prohibited men turning around on a street and “looking at a woman in that way”. Offenders could be fined $25. Those that went on to commit a second flirting offence would be ordered to wear a pair of horse blinders whenever they stepped out on the streets!

Of course, one thing leads to another, as the puritan authorities must have been aware. Because in New York adultery is a crime. Section 255.17 of the state penal law introduced on September 1st, 1907, states: “A person is guilty of adultery when he engages in sexual intercourse with another person at a time when he has a living spouse, or the other person has a living spouse.” Adultery is a class B misdemeanor which is punishable by up to 90 days in jail or a $500 fine.

Although it is rarely enforced, about a dozen people have been charged under the adultery law since the 1970s. Other bizarre laws still on the Statute Book in New York mean that it is illegal for a woman to be on the street wearing “body-hugging clothing”. And citizens may not greet each other by “putting one’s thumb to the nose and wiggling the fingers”.

Other states in the US have their share of strange, unrepealed laws. In Florida, women can be fined for falling asleep under a hair dryer, as can the salon owner. And unmarried women in Florida are breaking the law if they go parachuting on a Sunday.

In Indiana, people are not allowed to go to a cinema or a theatre or ride in a public streetcar if they have eaten garlic less than four hours earlier.

In Iowa, it is an offence for a kiss to last more than five minutes and in Massachusetts, snoring is prohibited unless all bedroom windows are locked shut.

Men who feel they need a drink after reading all these restrictions could be unlucky if they live in Pennsylvania. There, an old law decrees that no man may purchase alcohol without written consent from his wife. . .

Published: April 25, 2016

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