The “Idiot Law”: A Brief History of Michigan Marriage Discrimination Against Individuals with Developmental Disabilities

I came across a very interesting article by Martha Churchill while I was doing research on my first assignment for the Virginia Board for People with Disabilities’ (VAPD) Partners in Policymaking (PIP) advocacy training program.  Each student has been assigned to present one piece of history from the disability rights movement.  And since my interest is in love and sexuality (of course), I decided to focus my research in that area.

Martha Churchill, an attorney in Michigan who serves as an advocate for adults with developmental disabilities, wrote an article for the Michigan Bar Journal in the Spring of 2001 about the “Idiot Law” —  a state law which prohibited marriage or intimate relations between one or both partners with developmental disabilities.

At the time she wrote the article, the “Idiot Law” was still active. That means, as recently as 9 years ago, if you were a married individual with a developmental disability in the state of Michigan, or you were the spouse of an individual with a developmental disability in the state of Michigan, the state court had the right to convict you both for committing a felony.

We hear of plenty of strange outdated laws out there that are no longer enforced, even though they’re still technically in the books.  And the “Idiot Law” could have easily passed as one of those… except that it continued to be enforced as recent as 2000, and to extreme measures.  Even if an individual with a  developmental disability was to go out on a date or engage in a consensual casual fuck with another adult, you could be challenged in court.

It wasn’t until 2001 that the “Idiot Law” was finally extinguished (a.k.a. repealed) — and it could be thanks to that article and Martha Churchill’s other advocacy efforts during her career to grant rights to individuals with developmental disabilities.

Martha explains the origin and history of the “Idiot Law” so well that I will leave it to her to explain the whole story.

For those of you who are interested in learning more about this fascinating piece in U.S. history on marriage and disability rights, I highly encourage you to read Martha’s article on the next page.  It’s definitely an eye-opener.

image source: jcoterhals

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One Comment

  1. Posted September 9, 2010 at 6:04 AM | Permalink

    “The United States is a nation of laws: badly written and randomly enforced.” (Frank Zappa)

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