Most people don't usually think of the Bible as a wicked document. But that's exactly what people thought of the 1631 edition of the King James Version. It seems when the printers went to print that particular edition, an error was made, and the word "not" was left out of the Seventh Commandment. Instead of the commandment reading, "Thou shalt not commit adultery," it read, "Thou shalt commit adultery."
It would seem on the basis of contemporary sexual morals, however, that today most would prefer "The Wicked Bible." At no other time in our nation's history has there been a greater disdain for this great commandment of God. Nevertheless, the Seventh Commandment, "Thou shalt not commit adultery," which could also be correctly translated, "Thou shalt not commit sexual immorality," is the Creator's law an eternal verity that guards the great institution of marriage, the sanctity of the family, and the preservation of society.
Neil Clark Warren in The Cohabitation Epidemic notes the way sexual mores have changed in recent decades. He writes: "According to the U.S. Census Bureau, one million people were in unmarried-partner households in 1970. The number rose to 3.2 million in 1990. And in 2000, the figure soared to 11 million. Now, half of all Americans ages 35 to 39 have lived with someone outside of marriage, according to researcher Larry Bumpass. Make no mistake: We are witnessing a major societal shift before our very eyes."
That shift is especially being felt most recently in North Carolina. Last March, Deborah Hobbs, a cohabitating woman and a dispatcher for the Pender County Sheriff's Department, was instructed by Sheriff Carson Smith to give up her job, stop living with her lover, or get married. Hobbs didn't realize it, but she was in violation of an 1805 statute in the Tar Heel State that says, "If any man and woman, not being married to each other, shall lewdly and lasciviously associate, bed and cohabit together, they shall be guilty of a Class 2 misdemeanor." When Hobbs refused to stop living with her partner or get married, she was fired. Consequently, with the help of the ACLU, now Hobbs is suing the state to have the statute declared unconstitutional.
Of course, the national media has had a field day with the matter, holding up North Carolina to ridicule. CNN compared North Carolina's "Fornication and Adultery" law to a 1949 ordinance in Connecticut that forbids the storing of town records in any place where liquor is sold. Other comparisons included a Minnesota law that a person can't cross state lines with a duck atop his head, and an Ohio statute that makes it illegal to get a fish drunk or to fish for a whale on Sundays.
But laws against cohabitation are really no laughing matter. Neither can they be compared to trivial and outdated ordinances. In fact, six other states have laws against cohabitation. Virginia, West Virginia, Michigan, Mississippi, North Dakota, and Florida have yet to do away with their laws against "living together." As early as January of this year, the North Dakota House beat back an effort to repeal their cohabitation law by a 52-37 vote. Laws against "shacking up," though in most cases un-enforced, still serve to undergird and protect marriage and the family.
Unfortunately, most people are ignorant of the fact that cohabitation is, generally speaking, a precursor to divorce. In Does Cohabitation Protect Against Divorce? Glen T. Stanton notes over 90 percent of cohabiters plan to marry someone, if not their current partner, at some point in life. Researchers, however, from Pennsylvania State University "find 'it has been consistently shown that, compared to spouses who did not cohabit, spouses who cohabit before marriage have higher rates of marital separation and divorce.' Sociologists at the University of Wisconsin-Madison report, 'Recent national studies in Canada, Sweden, and the United States found that cohabitation increased, rather than decreased, the risk of marital dissolution.' This was also found to be true in the Netherlands."
Stanton goes on to add: "Other studies show that those who have any type of premarital cohabiting experience have a 50 to 100 percent greater likelihood of divorce than those who do not cohabit premaritally. This data has led researchers to conclude that the enhanced chance of divorce after cohabitation 'is beginning to take on the status of an empirical generalization.'"
Few things lend more to the demise of any culture than the undermining of the institution of marriage. Former President James Garfield once said, "The sanctity of marriage and the family relation make the cornerstone of our American society and civilization."
Then there's the matter of children. Neil Clark Warren contends most live-in couples don't intend to have children, yet it happens. "More than a quarter of unmarried mothers are cohabiting at the time of their child's birth. Further, two-thirds of children who end up in stepfamilies have parents who are cohabiting rather than married," says Warren. These children during their most vulnerable stages in life are deprived of genuine security. Warren contends, "75 percent of all children born to cohabiting parents will experience their parent's separation before they reach age 16." Unstable and broken parental relationships scar children for life. Moreover, research shows children of cohabiting parents who come from previously broken marriages get mixed signals that make it difficult for parents to establish moral guidelines for them.
Only children who are strong emotionally, spiritually, and of excellent moral character are prepared to protect and pass on the great values that keep us free as a nation.
Are we so foolish as to believe that we know better than God -- that we can break His commandments and not be broken by them? Do we believe we can divest our laws from His laws and not destroy ourselves in the process?
Since Deborah Hobbs and the ACLU filed their lawsuit against North Carolina's cohabitation law, the State's Attorney General Roy Cooper has asked the lawsuit be dismissed on the grounds that there is no criminal case pending in the matter. Cooper's motion says, "The complaint, on its face, fails to allege any actual, present controversy ... since there is simply no threat of an imminent criminal prosecution." But I can think of an even more important reason to dismiss the case than Cooper's. The law should remain on the books because to strike it down would be to officially sanction a public policy that says, "Thou shalt commit adultery. Thou shalt commit sexual immorality."
Rev. Mark H. Creech (firstname.lastname@example.org) is the executive director of the Christian Action League of North Carolina, Inc.