U.S. Rep. John Mica is finding himself defending a “no” vote and comments he made 36 years ago in the Florida House of Representatives against a bill that would have made marital rape a crime.

Apparently in 1980 it was unclear whether Florida statutes considered marital rape as rape. It took two more years before prosecutors were successful in getting a prosecution and conviction in such a case. And apparently, as with almost all bills, there was more to the bill than just the fundamental issue.

Memory of that vote first was revived last spring by the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee when it was attacking Mica, even though he had no Democratic opponent yet in Florida’s 7th Congressional District. More recently it has cropped up in TV commercials, mailers and comments supporting Mica’s Democratic opponent, Stephanie Murphy, in the past couple weeks. Mica, a 12-term Republican congressman from Winter Park, is fighting back against that and other campaign tactics taken by Murphy and her supporters who have been trying to paint him as anti-women.

According to a mailer put out by the Florida Democratic Party, Mica urged a no vote on that 1980 bill, saying, during the May 29, 1980 floor debate, “We don’t need to go meddling in the marriage bedroom.”

Mica insists now he voted against the 1980 bill only because it was a bad bill, that he has voted for other, much-stronger bills protecting women from violence, and that he adamantly agrees marital rape — also known as spousal rape — is rape.

But for some voters, the 36-year-old vote and comment are worth considering, following the latest reports in the mailers and media.

Now Mica finds himself defending himself in social media. On Monday he responded to one Facebook post referencing the Murphy campaign’s comments about the bill, calling it “the most deceitful claim in my opponent’s smear campaign on my record. Any form of rape anywhere is illegal. Period. The bill in question, brought before the Florida Legislature in the ’80s, would have actually weakened the laws and made it more difficult to punish offenders. That’s why I voted against it.” He similarly responded to another post over the weekend.

Spokesman Alan Byrd added Mica “absolutely” believes spousal rape is a crime, and should be. The 1980 proposal, Byrd said, was simply a bad bill, creating loopholes in existing rape and violence-against-women laws already on Florida’s books, and that it got bipartisan opposition that year. That opposition included Democrat Speaker of the House, J. Hyatt Brown, and the Democrat-controlled Florida Senate, which killed the bill in a committee, he noted. Within a couple of years, Florida became the first state in the country to convict someone of marital rape, and did so without any new statutes, Byrd added.

“This is a disgusting and vile attack about a bill that the Democrat speaker of the house voted against and the Democrat-controlled Senate killed without a vote 36 years ago. Mica voted to ensure women were protected under much stronger existing rape and assault statutes and this provision would have made protecting women worse,” Byrd said. “Stephanie Murphy and her Washington D.C. friends are only attacking in this manner because she has no experience or new ideas to run on and has no understanding of the values of Central Florida.”

The Florida Democratic Party said on that day, Mica wasn’t citing bad statutory language, but rather the Bible, in opposing the bill. The party provided a citation to the New York University Law Review from December 2009, which reported his statement on May 29, 1980, as “[T]he Bible doesn’t give the state permission anywhere in that book, for the state to be in your bedroom and that’s exactly what this bill has gone to. It’s meddling in your bedroom, the State of Florida as an entity deciding what you can do and what you can’t do. . . . [W]e don’t need to go to meddlin’ in the marriage bedroom.”

Mica’s defenders argue the context of 1980 cannot be fairly applied to 2016, while ignoring all the years in between. Democratic Winter Park Commissioner Sarah Sprinkel said the comment is offensive taken out of context, but argued it is not fair to take comments made 36 years ago and try make sense of them today. She called Mica a “great states-person” and said that ability comes with experience and time.

“They’re taking something completely out of context,” Sprinkle said. “I don’t like to see things like that come up now. It’s not fair to bring out a comment today from 36 years ago.”

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