"Rape is rape regardless of your marital status," said Maria Luisa Ochoa, chief of staff to California Assemblywoman Lucille Roybal-Allard (D-Los Angeles), who is sponsoring a bill to toughen the state's penalties for spousal rape.
BACKGROUND: Spousal rape has long been ignored and has not even been regarded as a crime until relatively recently. Traditionally, U.S. law held that a man could not rape his wife because the marriage contract did not give her the right to refuse to engage in sexual intercourse with her husband. Indeed, until the 1970s, most states had laws specifically exempting husbands from being prosecuted for the rape of their wives.
But, by 1980, three states had completely repealed their marital-rape exemptions, and five more had begun to sanction prosecutions of husbands for rape in certain circumstances. As the decade wore on, other states followed.
However, attempts to repeal laws governing marital rape often ran into trouble. Opponents argued that eliminating the exemption for marital rape would bring government into private family disputes and encourage false accusations.
Advocates for battered women say that many of the current laws regarding marital rape are flawed because they either make spousal rape more difficult to prove or else treat it less seriously than other cases of rape.
About 30 of the states that have eliminated the spousal-rape exemption have "major problems," according to Laura X of the National Clearinghouse on Marital and Date Rape in Berkeley.
That includes California, where marital rape may be treated as a felony or misdemeanor. A bill to bring the penalties for spousal rape in line with the other rape laws cleared the State Assembly with ease but has been postponed until the 1992 session.
Continuing deficiencies in state law often are the result of...