BOSTON — Massachusetts has dozens of odd, seemingly outdated statutes that remain on the books despite being deemed unconstitutional or largely ignored by law enforcement.

A 1963 law makes it illegal to scream “profane, impure language or slanderous statements” at players and officials at sporting events. It calls for $50 fines for violators.

Cheating on one’s spouse remains a crime under a 1762 law that calls for up to three years in jail and a $500 fine. A 1692 law prohibiting unmarried “fornication” might land you in jail for three months, hitting you with a $30 fine. A 1906 law gives police the authority to arrest individuals for spitting, and fine them $20.

The old laws lumber on with seemingly little impetus for lawmakers to do away with them, but Beacon Hill is taking another crack at repealing some of them.

Legislation unanimously approved by the state Senate last week would repeal dozens of outdated statutes, including those that criminalize sodomy and so-called “unnatural acts” between consenting adults. It would also create a permanent state commission to routinely review antiquated laws.

Sen. Joan Lovely, D-Salem, a primary sponsor of the proposal, said many of the laws pegged for repeal are no longer “acceptable or relevant” and in some cases are “harmful” by intruding on peoples’ personal and sexual lives.

“Relationships between consenting adults are some of the most private and intimate parts of our lives, and government does not and should not be able to criminalize those relationships,” Lovely said.

Many of the changes were recommended for repeal or revision by a state commission that reviewed dozens of archaic laws, some dating back to the 1600s.

While many of the antiquated laws are amusing, others have been called discriminatory and even unconstitutional.

Abortion is legal in the state under a 2020 law, but a pair of statutes that became law between 1845 and 1847 — which remain on the books — refer to abortion as “procuring miscarriage” and make it illegal for anyone to perform an abortion or provide information, tools or medicine needed to facilitate one.

The American Civil Liberties Union of Massachusetts and Planned Parenthood have sought for years to get those and other statutes repealed. Several bills seeking to do so are filed every legislative session but fail to come up for a vote.

Meanwhile, gay and lesbian rights groups have fought for years to abolish an 1887 anti-sodomy statute.

In some instances, outdated laws have been used to prosecute individuals or support government policy.

When the state Supreme Judicial Court approved same-sex marriage in 2003, then-Gov. Mitt Romney told local clerks not to officiate at same-sex weddings for out-of-state couples unless they relocated to Massachusetts. Romney, a Republican, cited a 1913 law prohibiting marriages of out-of-state couples if the marriage would be considered illegal in their home state. That law was repealed five years later.

“The government has no business in people’s sex lives,” said Sen. Julian Cyr, D-Truro, a co-sponsor. “By removing harmful, homophobic and transphobic language from our statutes we are taking a well overdue step to ensure the letter of the law promotes equity and justice for the most vulnerable members of our population.”

The proposal now moves to the House of Representatives, which must approve it before sending it to Gov. Charlie Baker for consideration.

Christian M. Wade covers the Massachusetts Statehouse for North of Boston Media Group’s newspapers and websites. Email him at

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