Laws are weird. Don’t do this! Don’t forget to do that! Like, why CAN’T we take the tag off a mattress? Or jaywalk? Or marry our cars?
For every “don’t hurt someone” law, there’s a “don’t wear red socks on Sunday before 12 p.m. in the market district” one.
Some of the weirdest laws, however, raise more questions than answers. How are so many people doing these specific things often enough that the legislature felt the need to pass a law against them?
Case in point: In Oklahoma it’s illegal to have sex with an animal in a bar. Why were there so many people doing it that they forced lawmakers’ hands?
Another example - In New Hampshire, it’s illegal to collect seaweed at night. Why? At least for this one we have an answer.
Apparently, it’s to dissuade farmers from stealing it to fertilize crops. In 2015 it was voted New Hampshire’s dumbest law, and a legislator said what we’re all thinking: "Why does no other state have it?" and "Why only at nighttime?”
That brings up an important question. Why is it so hard to get old laws off the books?
We spoke with Philip Howard, a lawyer, author and advocate for obsolete law reform. Howard calls our government’s inability to repeal old, outdated laws a constitutional flaw.
“Every day each one of us is violating some law we don't know about,” he told Oxygen.com. “It’s basically a mess.”
The solution, he said, is something they do in other countries - recodification. In other places they have institutional mechanisms, be it a group of people or a voting committee, that goes through the laws and simplifies them, and presents a new code.
“Our legal codes more closely resemble a junkpile of laws stacked on top of each other,” he said. “The enforcement is left to the discretion of agencies.”
There are a few other reasons, he said, why old laws don’t get repealed. First of all, legislators don’t get much credit for repealing a law. Second, sometimes old laws still benefit a small swath of population (think farm subsidies) and that group will fight hard for it not to change.
Also, because of the sheer size and scope of the government, it can be difficult to get everyone to agree on anything. This is a historical problem that goes back a ways, he explained, and includes the reign of Napoleon.
However, he said, every time in history laws are recodified, there’s a huge economic boom.
In the meantime, this means that we’re stuck with a lot of archaic laws that are basically just ignored. For example, it’s technically illegal to sing "Happy Birthday" in public, but who’s going to stop you?
Aren’t you curious to know what other weird stuff you can’t do? Here’s a list!
Jury duty keeps our legal system running — don’t try and get out of it. But, if you do, opt for thinking of a likely excuse rather than maiming yourself in Alabama, where it’s against the law. It’s also illegal to maim yourself to collect money from other people.
In Anchorage, you’re not allowed to drive over a fire hose while it’s in use. Good for the lawmakers of Alaska. If you’re haphazardly driving over fire hoses maybe it’s time to take a nice, long look at your life.
Arizona has some particularly specific road kill laws. If you kill a “big game animal” with your car, you can keep it for your own purposes, but you have to get a permit from a police officer first.
If you’re a pinball wizard in Arkansas, you might want to move to another state. It’s against the law for you to win at a pinball game more than 25 times in a row. No problem with 24 though. That’s fine.
Do you like frog jumping contests? Who doesn’t, you say? If your frog dies in the contest, or is killed in some tragic way during said contest, do you like to eat the frog? Too bad! It’s against the law.
Colorado has a thing. That thing is: don’t mutilate stuff in state parks. Not rocks, not trees, not wildflowers and that’s right — not shrubbery. It’s probably best you keep your hands in your pockets if you’re into that sort of thing.
Do you have a penchant for dying your chicken blue? Or your rabbit red? Just for the fun of it? That’s OK. Want to make a business of it? Well too bad, you can’t. In Connecticut, it’s not illegal to dye those animals but once you do, you definitely can’t sell them.
Delaware is serious about tongue splitting. So serious, in fact, that you’re not allowed to do it to yourself, or someone else, unless you’re a doctor or a dentist. What’s tongue splitting? It’s when you cut your tongue down the middle, sometimes to the underside base. Who knew!
Don’t throw little people, in bars. Since 1989, it’s been illegal to participate in what was then known as “Dwarf Tossing” an activity that was apparently a “sensation in bars and taverns,” according to NPR. An international sensation too, apparently, as it’s also illegal in Canada and France. In case you don’t know, the lost art of dwarf tossing involves putting a velcro suit on a little person and tossing them into large velcro targets. Alternatively, there’s a variation where people are put on skateboards and they knock things over.
You can’t live on a boat for more than 30 days at a time in Georgia. On day 29, get ready to float across the state line.
Billboards are banned in Hawaii. Why would you want to mar the skyscape anyway? Leave that for an ugly state with more buildings.
In the land of the potato, there is one cuisine that is off limits: human flesh. That’s right, it’s illegal to “willfully ingests the flesh or blood of a human being.” However, there is a caveat. If you eat someone “under extreme life-threatening conditions as the only apparent means of survival,” then you get a pass.
In Illinois necrophilia is illegal. Which begs the question, where is sleeping with a corpse NOT illegal?!
You can’t fish with your hands in Indiana. You can’t fish with a gun in Indiana. You can’t fish with dynamite in Indiana.
Apparently, you just can’t have any fun while you fish in Indiana.
Don’t try to pass off butter as margarine or even (gasp) oleomargarine, in Iowa. This is a very dishonest activity and they won’t stand for it there. Iowa has a weird relationship with margarine, and certain types of it weren’t legal until 1953.
Kansas has some very specific drinking laws. First, you can’t be charged for a free sample of an alcoholic beverage (good!), but you can’t get more than five samples or you break the law (bad?). Also, businesses can’t give out samples if they charge a cover charge or entry fee into an establishment.
Everyone knows the ol’ Kentucky adage: If you dye your chicks, you can only sell them in six. That’s right, for those of you who like to dye baby chickens, and then sell those baby chickens, make sure you have at least half a dozen, or you’re breaking the law.
In this state, it’s against the law to order someone goods and services without their permission or knowledge, like pizza. This one I get. Once in college I was cramming all night, and my friends ordered me a pizza with no cheese or sauce and only anchovies. I mean I still ate it but, you know, people can be so cruel.
Maine is apparently very serious about electric fences. It’s illegal to put up a “d.i.y” electric fence all willy nilly. But making electric fences isn’t exactly crafting a centerpiece — some things ARE better left to the experts.
Oral sex with people and animals is against the law in Maryland. Also, you can’t engage in “unnatural or perverted sexual practice with another or with an animal.” No comment.
You can’t have a public boxing, or kickboxing, or mixed martial arts fight for money. Massachusetts you take the fun out of everything! Just kidding, no hate mail please.
You can’t kill a dog using electrocution or a high altitude decompression chamber. You probably shouldn’t be creatively giving the “Old Yeller” treatment to dogs without a vet, anyway.
For all you drinkers out there: In Minnesota, you can’t get in trouble for public drunkenness. Before you strap on your beer helmet and go dance in the streets, know this - it’s not a catch all. If you do something stupid while you’re drunk it’s still on you.
You can’t legislate love, but Mississippi sure tries. It’s illegal to tell a woman you’re going to marry her and then not follow through.
Missouri is picky about how you deal with dead bodies, especially if the cause of death was old-timey diseases like “diphtheria (membranous croup), scarlet fever (scarlatina or scarlet rash), glanders, anthrax, leprosy or smallpox.” In fact, you really got to do some work on the body, including “the orifices disinfected and packed with cotton” and have the body “completely wrapped in a sheet that is saturated with a solution of bichloride of mercury.”
Montana has a lot of the usual abuse against minor laws, but there are two that really stand out. For one, it’s illegal to torture, mutilate or sacrifice an animal in front of a minor, but it’s also illegal to pretend to do so. As for dead bodies, you can’t dissect, mutilate or incinerate them in front of a minor, either. The "pretend" part is what gives me pause. It almost seems worse.
Do you fall into the circle of people who have a venereal disease but also want to get married? I have some bad news, friend. It’s illegal.
It’s hard to figure out what shoe size you are. Not like they have a contraption or anything that does that. Good thing x-ray technology exists to do all the legwork for you. What? That particular technology is outlawed in the state that allows prostitution.
In New Hampshire, seaweed is apparently very important. So important that you don’t steal it at night. Fine in the daytime, though. Apparently seaweed is a great fertilizer for crops and farmers figured that out.
You can’t wear a bulletproof vest while trying to commit murder in New Jersey. Which, if we’re being honest, if you’re going to try and kill someone whether or not it’s legal to wear a vest is probably not the top concern.
In New Mexico, you can’t spit on the sidewalk. Or a school. Or a church. Or any other public building, for that matter. Spitters beware!
Do you like tigers? Who doesn’t! Do you want to impress your friends with a nice, close up selfie taken with a tiger? Well don’t. It’s illegal. Apparently, the law was passed to prevent maulings, but it hasn’t stopped three-quarters of men on Tinder to take an out-of-state tiger selfie and post it on the dating app.
If you marry someone in North Carolina and they are “impotent,” either man or woman, your marriage is void. Not sure how a.. you know what? Nevermind.
You’ve heard of purple potatoes, right? And of course the regular old white and yellow ones? In North Dakota, that’s all you can get. It’s against the law to sell anyone artificially colored potatoes, which begs the question, who is selling artificially colored potatoes?
Ohio drivers: your state trusts you. If you’re in a car and you think the stoplight is malfunctioning, or you’re not triggering it, you are allowed to drive right through. Glory be!
Under Title 37 of Oklahoma’s statutes on drinking, it’s against the law to pretend to have sex with an animal in a bar. I don’t know how you play Big Buck Hunter, but I guess I can’t play in Oklahoma anymore.
So speed racing, as per statute 811.125, is illegal in Oregon. But it’s the way they define speed racing that makes it a little weird. You’ve got your regulars in there, like an acceleration contest, or trying to set a speed record. But, you can’t perform a test of physical endurance in a car, either. So maybe that means lifting weights while driving? Holding your breath?
Pennsylvania - the paintball state! Right? No? Okay fine. Well, the state is all about consensual paintball — it’s illegal to shoot anyone with a paintball gun if they aren't playing the game with you.
You can’t pop a cap in Rhode Island. Literally. Cap guns are illegal there.
We all know that Sunday is the Lord’s day. It’s also the day you can’t buy stuff, apparently. Like china, or office furnishings, or lumber. Or musical instruments. Or luggage!
Everyone knows if you want to protect your sunflowers, you have to get creative. That’s why in South Dakota, you can use fireworks to scare birds from your crops. Who said South Dakota was boring?
Warning to skunk breeders and general skunk aficionados: don’t bring your adorable stink nuggets into Tennessee. They don’t want them.
In Texas, you’ll never have to take a religious test if you want to hold a public office, which means you are allowed to practice whatever religion you want — sort of. You have to acknowledge the existence of a supreme being.
Are you a dog owner? Better keep an eye on the company he keeps. In Utah, if your dog gets together with some other dogs for some sneaky dog-related mayhem, you and the other owners are liable.
Tired of the man aka the neighborhood association telling you can’t use clotheslines? Move to Vermont. You can’t be told not to use a clothesline in Vermont.
Unmarried sex, or fornication, is still illegal in the state of Virginia. This one seems a tad outdated, but it’s still on the books.
Opera houses, and other public buildings, must open outwardly in this state. That includes libraries, churches and “public halls.” They also have to be unlocked during use. Why? Helps the flow of traffic, apparently.
You can’t hunt with a ferret in West Virginia. It’s unfortunate, because every knows the best way to catch a ferret is with a bigger ferret.
Wisconsin has a dairy rep to maintain. If you make butter, it has to have a “highly pleasing” flavor. Don’t worry if that’s subjective — It’s the law!
Do you like to cut, sever, detach or mutilate a sheep’s ear? Well, you’re out of luck if the place you want to do it is Wyoming. Unless, that is, you only cut less than half the ear. Then you’re fine.
[Illustrations: Brian Parisi]
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