Sexual relations between a married person and someone other than his or her spouse. Prohibitions against adultery are found in virtually every society; Jewish, Christian, and Islamic traditions all condemn it, and in some Islamic countries it is still punishable by death. Attitudes toward adultery in different cultures have varied widely. Under the Code of Hammurabi (18th century BC) in Babylonia it was punishable by death by drowning, and in ancient Rome an offending woman could be killed, though men were not severely punished. In western Europe and North America, adultery by either spouse is a ground for divorce, though in the U.S. the shift to no-fault divorce significantly reduced the importance of adultery as an element in divorce proceedings. The spread of Western ideas of equality in marriage has resulted in pressure for equal marital rights for women in traditional African and Southeast Asian societies.
This entry comes from Encyclopædia Britannica Concise.
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