Lawmakers OK Bill Nixing Marital Loophole for Sex Assault

Legislation now heads to desk of West Virginia Gov. Jim Justice to sign
By Newser Editors and Wire Services
Posted Mar 9, 2024 8:30 AM CST
Lawmakers OK Bill Nixing Marital Loophole for Sex Assault
Stock photo of West Virginia's Capitol.   (Getty Images/benkrut)

Certain sexual assaults against a spouse would be criminalized in West Virginia for the first time under a bill passed Friday by the Republican-dominated House of Delegates. The bill would remove marriage as a defense to first- and third-degree sexual assault. The House passed the bill without debate on a unanimous vote, sending it to Republican Gov. Jim Justice, who hasn't indicated whether he'd sign it. The bill previously passed the state Senate, per the AP. The sponsor, GOP state Sen. Ryan Weld of Brooke County, is a former prosecutor.

Until 1976, a married person couldn't be charged with penetratively raping their spouse. That law was changed at the urging of the former Republican state Sen. Judith Herndon, then the only woman in the Legislature. Weld explained there are two crimes of sexual violence outlined in state code: penetrative rape, and secondly, the forcible touching of a person's sexual organs, breasts, buttocks, or anus by another person. For the latter offense, a marital exemption shields a person from conviction if the crime is perpetrated against their spouse. Even if the couple is legally separated, an individual accused of such sexual abuse couldn't currently be charged.

(More West Virginia stories.)

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