NEW YORK — When David H. Petraeus resigned as CIA director because of adultery, he was widely understood to be acknowledging a misdeed but not a crime. Yet in his state of residence, Virginia, as in 22 others including Massachusetts, adultery remains a criminal act, a vestige of the way US law has anchored legitimate sexual activity within marriage.
In most of those states, including New York, adultery is a misdemeanor. But in others — Massachusetts, Idaho, Michigan, Oklahoma, and Wisconsin — it is a felony, though rarely prosecuted. In the armed forces, it can be punished severely, although usually in combination with greater wrongdoing.