Supporters of HB256 say rape is a crime of violence that should not be tolerated regardless of the relationship between the perpetrator and the victim. And in a 59-13 vote, the House agreed.
"There is no sanctity in violence in marriage," said Rep. Nancy Lyon, R-Bountiful, the sponsor of the bill, which removes an exemption in Utah law for spousal rape.Under the provisions of HB256, a spouse could be charged with sexual assault if the other spouse does not consent to sexual relations, the same as if a stranger committed the act.
The bill evoked some of the most spirited debate of the session with most arguing in its favor. "Men should not have the right under any conditions to violate the dignity of women," said Rep. Irby Arrington, R-Salt Lake.
"This is a heinous crime for which there is no law on the books to protect our wives, our mothers or our daughters," agreed House Minority Whip Kelly Atkinson.
Rep. Afton Bradshaw, R-Salt Lake, said Utah's current law is founded upon English common law that assumes "a woman is the property of the man."
But some lawmakers were clearly uncomfortable with the bill eliminating the exemption for spousal rape. While condemning spousal rape, they said there is too much potential for rape charges to be used in divorce proceedings and custody disputes. Most preferred that an interim committee study the issue.
Rep. Jerrold Jensen, R-Salt Lake, a one-time opponent of the bill who now supports it, said the issue has caused him more "consternation" than any other bill this year, including the abortion debate. But still he quipped, "I support a headache exemption: If she said she has a headache for five nights in a row, then it's OK."
The bill now goes to the Senate.