According to this rather old (2015) article, the federal government made marital rape illegal in 1986, but there are still many exceptions in various states:

The federal government made marital rape illegal in 1986, but this only applies to incidents which occur on publicly-owned land.

  • Connecticut - Only husbands or wives raped “by the use of force” can bring charges against their spouse.
  • Idaho - only men can rape, so wife-on-husband rape, rare as it may be, doesn’t exist.
  • Michigan - “a person may not be charged or convicted solely because his or her legal spouse is under the age of 16, mentally incapable, or mentally incapacitated.”
  • Mississippi - Marital rape is only “rape” if it involves “forcible sexual penetration”, and evidence that the alleged rapist and his victim are married can be used in the accused’s defense (..)

Since rape is a serious crime, I am wondering why it is so hard to treat it homogeneously from the legal perspective.

Question: Why are there so many exceptions to marital rape law in the US?

  • 1
    As a side note, marital rape became a criminal offence quite late in other Western countries as well (e.g. France or Germany.
    – Alexei
    Commented Apr 3, 2018 at 13:59
  • 1
    I think you're asking "why do different states have different laws?"
    – user1530
    Commented Apr 3, 2018 at 23:49
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    I cannot speak for all of these laws, but there is a practical reason for Michigan's. Michigan, specifically the Detroit area, has a very large Muslim Immigrant population. People coming to the US from Islamic countries usually settle here because there is family nearby. A few Islamic Countries have lower limits on age of consent so the situation may be that an immigrant couple an older man may have married a woman who would ordinarily fall under statutory rape prior to coming to the US. So the marriage may be valid and thus cannot be the sole reason to charge him with a crime.
    – hszmv
    Commented Apr 4, 2018 at 12:46

1 Answer 1


In the US as you have observed states can set there own laws (to a certain extent). So the question is effectively why did not all the states agree on exactly what details should be applied in this case. An interesting question to ask yourself may be why would you expect them all to independently produce the same legislation.

There are many different perspectives on these particular differences that you have mentioned and perhaps they could all be their own questions. In general some potential reasons for differences.

  • Different outlooks/opinions in different states that might make particular ideas or rules not palatable in a specific state at the time they were introduced. There are some weird attitudes that could explain say the Idaho exception
  • Different preexisting laws in different states that may mean certain things were already covered by other laws or perhaps definitions meant that certain acts were given a different name or unusual circumstances in that state that were not present elsewhere.
  • Enforceability certain laws may be hard to enforce this can be a particular issue for sex crimes (think what happens behind closed doors in the grey situations rather than out on the street). The obvious one that fits into this would be the Connecticut rule.
  • Events occurring around the time each state passed their respective version of the law may have lead to certain changes i.e. certain situations that may have gained media attention
  • early/late adoption early adopters will achieve what they can and perhaps what is most important at the time where as late adopters have a chance to look how the rules function (or not) elsewhere and make changes where they think there could be problem or improvements. Either way they may not get around to (decide against) bringing them inline or updating them later.

I want to make it clear that this answer is not supporting or opposing any of these specific policies it is just suggesting why they may have come about.

  • This is a very good answer and I think all points are valid. Thanks.
    – Alexei
    Commented Apr 3, 2018 at 19:30

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