Does a homosexual relationship constitute adultery? The court rules that it does.
In this divorce case, the husband has filed a counterclaim alleging that his wife has entered into a lesbian relationship and that this involvement constitutes adultery. The wife, besides denying the allegations, states that assuming arguendo that the allegations are true, a non-heterosexual relationship does not constitute adultery.
Not surprisingly, there is not a considerable body of prior law to draw upon but a review of both legal and social principles must lead one to the Conclusion that adultery exists irrespective of the sex of the third party.
N.J.S.A. 2A:34-2 lists the various grounds for divorce; the first of which is "adultery", a term not defined in the statute. According to Black's Law Dictionary the historic legal definition of "adultery" is an act of sexual intercourse by a married person with another person other than one's spouse. Prior case law in New Jersey follows the prevailing view that an actual act of sexual intercourse must take place in order for adultery to exist. In W. v. W., 94 N.J. Super. 121, 226 A.2d 860 (Ch.Div.1967) the court ruled that given the clear evidence of the physical inability of the wife to engage in intercourse, it would be impossible for her to commit adultery.
In H. v. H., 59 N.J. Super. 227, 157 A.2d 721 (App.Div.1959) a complaint for divorce on the dual grounds of adultery and extreme cruelty was filed based upon the wife's lesbian relationship. The adultery count was voluntarily dismissed at trial and the alleged acts were found to constitute a cause of action for divorce on the grounds of extreme cruelty.
To better understand the underlying issue it is helpful to briefly review both the legal and social standards and to distinguish between adultery as a crime as opposed to a private civil wrong.
The seventh commandment states that "Thou shall not commit adultery" Exodus 20:14. A biblical definition of "Adultery" is "the lying with a woman married to a husband". See Deuteronomy 22:22 and Leviticus, 20:10. The penalty for this crime was death for both the adulterer and adulteress. Historically, there could only be adultery if the woman was married. The marital status of the male was irrelevant. If a married man be "lying with a woman not betrothed" the biblical crime was fornication and punished by a fine of 50 shekels of silver. Deuteronomy 22:29. (The commentators generally opine that
even the thought of adultery was an offense under the biblical code, an issue which we need not deal with today.)
Under the common law adultery was treated as a violation of civil law. According to Blackstone it is "the criminal conversation with a man's wife"; a definition not far removed from the biblical context. 3 Black, Com. 140. Puritan England also established adultery (intercourse with a married woman) as a felony punishable by death. While New Jersey never treated the issue with that degree of severity the crime of adultery "shall be punished by a fine not exceeding one hundred dollars or imprisonment not exceeding 6 months". Revised laws 1799, 248-14. (Section 15 of that law punished ...