Fornication is a term which refers to "consensual sexual intercourse between two persons not married to each other". In contrast adultery is consensual sex where one or both of the partners are married to someone else.

The origin of the word derives from Latin. The word fornix means "an archway" or "vault" (in Rome, prostitutes could be solicited there). More directly, fornicatio means "done in the archway"; thus a euphemism for prostitution.

Fornication is dealt with differently in various religions, societies and cultures. With respect to sexual relations between persons of the same sex, such acts may be prohibited under criminal laws defining the offense of "sodomy," rather than the laws defining the offense of "fornication."

Common law (eg United States and England)

Charges of illegal fornication have been part of common law since the ancient past in the English speaking world.

The U.S. Supreme Court decision in Lawrence v. Texas (2003) rendered the states' remaining laws related to "sodomy" unconstitutional. Lawrence v. Texas is also presumed by many to invalidate laws prohibiting fornication, as the decision declared sodomy laws unconstitutional due to the interference of such laws with private, consensual, non-commercial intimate relations between unrelated adults, and therefore are odious to the rights of liberty and privacy, such rights being retained by the people of the United States. However, due to the fact that Lawrence only explicitly declared sodomy laws unconstitutional, some states continue to enforce laws prohibiting fornication. For example, North Carolina courts regard Lawrence v. Texas as applying to sodomy laws only and continue to prohibit fornication and adultery. (Note: "criminal conversation" is a euphemism for extramarital sex.)

In Utah, "fornication" is a class B misdemeanor.Utah Code Section 76-7-104

Islamic Countries

Fornication is a crime in some Muslim countries, and is often harshly punished. However, there are some exceptions. In Pakistan, for example, occasionally a charge is filed in order to prevent the accused from leaving the jurisdiction (for instance it is often used against drug smugglers, against whom it may not be possible to show a prima facie case for trial, but a charge of fornication, which requires a lower threshold, can be filed in the interim as the investigation unfolds.) In certain countries where all Islamic laws are enforced, such as Iran and Saudi Arabia, fornication is punishable by lashings. This is in contrast to adultery, in which one (or both) of the parties is married, where the punishment would be death by stoning.

See also

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