updated 2/9/2007 9:26:37 PM ET 2007-02-10T02:26:37

Living together out of wedlock would be downgraded from a sex crime to fraud, and then only if the couple claims to be married, under a proposal that passed the state Senate on Friday.

The bill was changed from an outright repeal of the state’s anti-cohabitation law. The amended proposal would make the false representation of marital status a misdemeanor crime for a man and woman who live together.

Cohabiting couples who do not falsely claim marriage would not be penalized.

The proposal now goes to the state House.

Since statehood, North Dakota has barred unmarried couples from “openly and notoriously” living together as if they were married. It is one of seven states with anti-cohabitation laws.

The punishment would be the same, with a maximum 30 days in jail and a $1,000 fine. But the proposal would remove the blanket ban on cohabitation, which has not been prosecuted in years, and its listing among other sex crimes, including rape and child sexual abuse.

“This is, in fact, the 21st century, and I believe it’s time to put to rest this 19th-century legislation,” said Democratic state Sen. Tracy Potter.

“If people are more comfortable in this wording, I have no problem. But I don’t think it changes anything,” said Sen. Tim Mathern, a fellow Democrat.

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