Funny old laws that are still on the books can bring a chuckle, especially when you consider that they once had a purpose and were enforced. Many of the funniest old laws deal with an America in her youth, whose change over the past 200 years is easily demonstrated.
Every time a resident of my small hometown in South Texas entered the city limits in their cars, they were obligated by law to honk their car horn so that those using horses would not be startled. As a teenager, I gleefully honked my horn every time I passed the city limits to mock the ancient city ordinance.
In Austin, Texas I was always amused that it was illegal to shoot Indians from streetcars. I never carried a pair of pliers in my back pocket because I could have been arrested and charged with suspicion of cattle rustling for carrying wire cutters. To top it off, I couldn't even spit on the sidewalk in disgust because that was still an offense within the city. It is asking too much to look for a spittoon these days.
If you go to a flea market in Texas, you can't buy or sell baby formula and contact lenses. It is also illegal to sell an armadillo or trip a horse. Texans can now be arrested, fined or both for recklessly moving feral swine or attempting to drive over a railroad crossing in a car with insufficient undercarriage clearance. The popular "low riders" must be driven in pretty small circles, I guess.
If you want to be a state employee in Texas, it is illegal to be a communist according to Chapter 557 of the current Texas Government Code. Obviously, this is a remnant from the McCarthy era. Reasonable suspicion by your supervisor is enough for dismissal.
It is not hard to understand old laws dealing with hot button issues in the old days, but some of them are hard to justify even allowing for changed times. In Kentucky, an old statute states that men who push their wives out of bed for inflicting their cold toes on them can be fined or jailed for a week. Not to be outdone an odd law in Minnesota makes it illegal to hang male and female underwear on the same washing line.
It is illegal to swear during sex in Willowdale, Oregon, for the past 100 years. But, odd laws are not exclusive to the United States. In Melbourne, Australia it is illegal for men to parade in strapless dresses , but they may cross-dress in anything with sleeves. An old law in Russia permits police officers to "beat a peeping tom soundly." In Texas, two categories of men are exempt from peeping tom charges; men over 50 and men with only one eye according to http://www.didyouknow.org/laws.htm.
I guess that all of the old laws that may still exist in a dormant state worldwide are good for a chuckle, but one that I particularly like is from the year 1313. King Edward II enacted a law stating that "You are forbidden from dying in parliament." This would be the ultimate reason to become a politician because dying became illegal, or so it would seem.
Sometimes the humor that is more valuable comes from real life, and not through comics who write jokes for a living. Anyone with time to do some Internet searches can find many more examples of funny laws that may still be on the books somewhere.
Austin American-Statesman article, Friday, December 26, 2008