It seems broadly agreed that the purpose of the law was, "to provide higher penalties for polygamists 'who sexually assault their purported spouses.'" But read literally, the law enhances the punishment for sexual assault by any married person, regardless of the assaulter's relationship with the victim (except when the victim is the assaulter's spouse), simply because married people can't marry anyone else.

And indeed, in Estes v. State (decided yesterday by the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals), prosecutors, judges, and a jury applied the law precisely in this way: Estes' conviction for having sex with an under-16-year-old friend of his son's was upgraded to a first-degree felony just because he was married.  An appellate court concluded that there was no rational basis for punishing married abusers more than unmarried abusers, but the majority on the Court of Criminal Appeals — Texas's highest court for criminal cases — disagreed...

[This case is] a reminder that statutes are often interpreted as they are written, and not as the drafters may have intended. We should all keep that in mind when we're asked to accept a broadly written statute on the grounds that the objectors are being too literal and that "courts and prosecutors obviously won't read it that broadly.  Sometimes statutes are indeed read narrowly, in keeping with their well-known purpose; but sometimes they are not....

Finally, the statute as read by the court would also impose a lower penalty for a married person's raping the person's spouse (since that would still be a second-degree sexual assault) than for the married person's raping someone else (since that would be a first-degree sexual assault). I don't think this was the result of any deliberate judgment by legislators that spousal rape is a lesser crime (the statute expressly excludes consensual marital sex from the statutory rape provision, but that exclusion doesn't cover the forcible rape provision); I don't think any of this was the result of any deliberate judgment by legislators. But that appears to be the outcome.

Second-degree felonies, by the way, call for a minimum sentence of 2 years in prison and a maximum of 20; first-degree felonies, call for a minimum of 5 years and a maximum of 99.