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Senators pass bill to end ‘marital exemption’ in criminal sexual offenses

Senators have passed a bill intended to eliminate the “marital exemption” in criminal sexual offenses.

Senate Bill 190 would remove a provision in criminal code where an allegation of inappropriate sexual contact applies only when the victim is not married to the aggressor.

As West Virginia law has stood, said Sen. Ryan Weld, “If you are married to somebody and you touch them in a private area as a result of forcible compulsion you cannot be convicted of a crime.”

“Now is the time to correct an injustice,” said Weld, R-Brooke.

Senators passed the bill 22-9, and it now goes to the House of Delegates.

There was no argument against the bill as it passed the Senate Monday. In the Senate Judiciary Committee last week, there was a long discussion focused on the possibility that one spouse could exaggerate or fabricate charges against another in a dispute. Members of the committee countered that investigators would take additional evidence into account when pursuing charges.

Senators who voted against the bill’s passage were Mike Azinger, R-Wood; Amy Nichole Grady, R-Mason; Mark Hunt, R-Kanawha; Glenn Jeffries, R-Kanawha; Robert Karnes, R-Randolph; Patrick Martin, R-Lewis; Mark Maynard, R-Wayne; Rollan Roberts, R-Raleigh; and Eric Tarr, R-Putnam.

The House has already dealt with the “marital exemption” but in a different format. Delegates earlier this month amended “Women’s Bill of Rights” legislation to include sections removing the marital exemption.

So the policy to remove the marital exemption has passed each chamber — but in different legislation. For the policy to actually change, the House and Senate would need to agree on one bill.