Unmarried couples may soon be legally allowed to live together in Florida

The Florida Legislature may be ready to rewrite history this year — getting rid of a law that makes it illegal for unmarried men and women to live together.

The measure (SB 498) by Sen. Eleanor Sobel, D-Hollywood, is poised for a full Senate vote after unanimously clearing that chamber's Rules Committee on Thursday.

“Times have changed,” Sobel told the panel, adding, “It’s time for us to have less government, less intrusion and repeal this archaic bill and bring Florida into the 21st century.”

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Sobel's bill repeals an 1868 law still on the books that makes living together by an unmarried man and woman a misdemeanor punishable by 60 days in jail and a $500 fine.

Florida is one of only three states — Michigan and Mississippi are the others — that make cohabitation illegal.

Sobel said that the current law could be used to deny grandparents visitation rights because they live with an unmarried partner.

Sen. Bill Galvano, R-Bradenton, said it also stands as a possible threat to personal privacy if used by law enforcement agencies to gain search warrants to a couple’s dwelling or records.

While Sobel's bill is moving swiftly in the Senate, the House version (HB 4003) is on a slower path. It has cleared the Criminal Justice subcommittee on a 10-3 vote, but hasn't moved in the Judiciary Committee.

This election year also could make some lawmakers wary of endorsing legislation that could be viewed as a strike against “family values.” But Sobel downplays that possibility in the era of same-sex marriage.

“What’s your definition of a family, anyway?” Sobel said. Critics’ “definition of a family used to be only a man and a woman.”