New Jersey Considers Repeal of Ancient Laws Regarding Women

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I wrote this for Forbes last month and just realized I haven't posted it here yet. Which I am doing now just in case you don't read Forbes religiously.

New-jerseyA bill introduced recently by two New Jersey lawmakers would get rid of some laws from the 1800s that are still on the books. Since laws from the 1800s that are still on the books tend to be ridiculous, I thought I would take a look at New Jersey's.

Senate Bill 2665, "[a]n act concerning the status of women," would repeal the "Married Women's Property Acts" on the grounds that they are no longer necessary and are "demeaning relics" of a time when a statute was necessary to give women any rights at all. That is, these statutes were a step forward for women's rights at the time, but now are unnecessary and kind of embarrassing.

For example, one of the statutes grants a married woman over the age of 21 the right to make her very own will, if you can imagine that. N.J.S. § 37:2-2. Single women could do so at the time, but apparently they lost that right upon getting married. (Since that's not the case anymore, the law is not necessary.) A married woman is also permitted to sue somebody without having to get her husband's permission. N.J.S. § 37:2-6. Maybe more importantly, a married woman is allowed to keep her "paraphernalia":

37:2-14.  Paraphernalia

The paraphernalia of a married woman, being the suitable ornaments and wearing apparel of a married woman, which have come to her through her husband during coverture, shall be her separate property as if she were a feme sole.

I read that to mean that unsuitable ornaments or apparel remain the property of the husband, presumably so he could get them back and give them to his next feme covert (the opposite of feme sole; it literally means "covered woman"). SB 2665 is probably intended in part to avoid ridiculous interpretations like that, since, again, these laws are still in effect, although I take it nobody has paid any attention to them in a very long time.

Also still in effect, and also seen as demeaning relics, are two laws relating to the consequences of certain carnal knowledge.

If a "wife after being ravished, consent to the ravisher," she loses her property rights unless her husband takes her back. N.J.S. § 3A:37-3. "Ravish" can mean just "to carry off," in the Helen-of-Troy sense, but more often the law uses it to mean "rape." So this law seems to contemplate that a woman might decide she liked her rapist and, if the husband could prove that, she would lose any rights she had in marital property. Seems like it is well past time for that one to go, doesn't it? Similarly, in New Jersey a couple has to wait three days to get a marriage license, unless the marriage would be between a woman and a man who has been arrested for "bastardry, rape, fornication or . . . carnal knowledge" of that woman, in which case they get a license right away. N.J.S. § 37:1-5. Maybe this was only intended for the "shotgun wedding" situation, but the inclusion of rape is disturbing to say the least.

The chairman of the state's Judiciary Committee (a man) has said that "if we need to repeal [these laws], I'm certainly open-minded to that." So that's nice.