Marital Rape Isn't Necessarily a Crime in 12 States

Minnesota and Ohio are weighing whether to repeal loopholes that make it legal to rape your spouse.

Bride and groom standing on a gavel.


  • Marital rape is still legal in 12 states.
  • A bill to close the loophole in Minnesota passed the House and awaits a final vote by the Senate.
  • Similar legislation faces an uphill climb in Ohio.
By day, Minnesota state Rep. Zach Stephenson is a prosecutor. Yet it came as a surprise to him when a constituent said his daughter had been raped by her husband and that a provision in the state’s law prevented him from being prosecuted.

"I don’t normally handle sex crimes, but I thought no way in 2019 in Minnesota do we have a law on the books that makes that OK," says the Democratic lawmaker. "I went back to my office and read through the law and sure enough there is an exception for drugging or having sex with someone mentally incapacitated if they’re married."

Twelve states -- Connecticut, Idaho, Iowa, Michigan, Minnesota, Mississippi, Nevada, Ohio, Oklahoma, Rhode Island, South Carolina and Virginia -- have a loophole that legalizes marital rape. In Nevada, being married to the victim is enough to protect someone from prosecution. In Virginia, a husband can avoid criminal charges if he agrees to therapy. In South Carolina, a married victim only has 30 days to report the rape and has to prove threat of physical violence. 

The most recent state to close a marital rape loophole was Maryland, in 2017, where the law had required victims to prove there was use of force.

Since then, lawmakers in Ohio have tried and failed to eliminate the state's requirement for proof of threat of force or violence if a couple is married or living together. Ohio state Rep. Kristin Boggs, a Democrat, believed the state had the votes to pass it last year, but the bill didn't make it past committee. Boggs says she intends to refile the bill this year. She'll have to overcome the critics who argue that closing marital rape loopholes would open the door to false allegations during contentious divorce settlements. 

"The problems of proof was one concern. This happens between husband and wife in private -- it’s one person’s word against another," John Murphy of the Ohio Prosecuting Attorneys Association, which has previously opposed the bill, told the Dayton Daily News in 2017.

The same can be said in cases of rape involving uncoupled people. 

"This is really just about saying that nobody should be allowed to rape anyone, and your legal relationship with someone shouldn’t impact that," says Boggs.

In Minnesota, Stephenson's bill may have a better chance. His proposal would make marital rape prosecutable no matter what state of mind a victim was in when their spouse raped them. It unanimously passed the House in February, passed a Senate committee last month and could win approval in the full Senate any day now. If it does, Stephenson says, "I'm optimistic it would get signed by the governor."

This debate is happening at a time when the #MeToo movement has ousted dozens of state lawmakers accused of sexual misconduct and sparked unprecedented interest in tightening sex crime laws. But Boggs doesn't see the movement as an asset in this case.

"In the Ohio Statehouse, the #MeToo movement has more of a chilling effect," she says. "Attaching this bill to that movement would likely hurt more than it would help."

Mattie covers all things health for Governing.

Special Projects
Sponsored Stories
GHD identified four themes critical for municipalities to address to reach net-zero by 2050. Will you be ready?
As more state and local jurisdictions have placed a priority on creating sustainable and resilient communities, many have set strong targets to reduce the energy use and greenhouse gases (GHGs) associated with commercial and residential buildings.
As more people get vaccinated and states begin to roll back some of the restrictions put in place due to the COVID-19 pandemic — schools, agencies and workplaces are working on a plan on how to safely return to normal.
The solutions will be a permanent part of government even after the pandemic is over.
See simple ways agencies can improve the citizen engagement experience and make online work environments safer without busting the budget.
Whether your agency is already a well-oiled DevOps machine, or whether you’re just in the beginning stages of adopting a new software development methodology, one thing is certain: The security of your product is a top-of-mind concern.
The World Economic Forum predicts that by 2022, over half of the workforce will require significant reskilling or upskilling to do their jobs—and this data was published prior to the pandemic.
Part math problem and part unrealized social impact, recycling is at a tipping point. While there are critical system improvements to be made, in the end, success depends on millions of small decisions and actions by people.
Government legal professionals are finding Lexis+ Litigation Analytics from LexisNexis valuable for understanding a judge’s behavior and courtroom trends, knowing other attorneys’ track records, and ensuring success in civil litigation cases.