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Infamous 'Scarlet Letter' law is repealed

By Leslie Feinberg

Florida's internationally infamous "Scarlet Letter" law was finally repealed on May 31.

The bill, passed into law in October 2001, required women who wanted to put a child up for adoption but couldn't find the child's father to run ads in newspapers describing themselves and their sexual histories.

The law, penned by State Sen. Walter G. Campbell Jr.--a Democrat--required women who'd had sex outside of marriage to pay out of pocket to place ads that listed their name, age, height, weight, hair and eye color and nationality. They had to be run in every city or county where the child could have been conceived.

In addition, the women were obligated to give descriptions of any men they'd had sex with that could have resulted in the pregnancy, and the time, date and location that sexual intercourse took place.

No exceptions were made for rape or incest survivors or for underage girls.

Politicians who passed the law claimed to be concerned about paternity suits in adoption cases.

While officials say they don't know how many women have actually been compelled to take out these ads, women's advocates estimate the number is at least hundreds.

Women's and civil rights groups across the United States protested the draconian state law as just as humiliating as chaining women in public stocks as punishment for sex outside of wedlock. International journalists skewered it, as well.

Gov. Jeb Bush signed a bill rescinding the state law. However, the governor and the legislature only moved to erase the law from the books after a South Florida rape victim went to court to challenge it. That legal battle resulted in two state courts ruling the law unconstitutional.

But now, Gator state political patriarchs in both houses have voted unanimously to establish a "Scarlet Registry" to replace the old law. This database, which will be kept by the state Department of Health's Office of Vital Statistics, allows men who believe they may be the father to list the name, address and physical description of a woman they had sex with, along with the date and place where conception took place.

Some 30 states have these "father registries."

Reprinted from the June 12, 2003, issue of Workers World newspaper

This article is copyright under a Creative Commons License.
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