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NC's anti-cohabitation law ruled unconstitutional

In February 2004, a Pender County woman named Deborah Hobbs lost her job as a 911 dispatcher in that county’s sheriff’s office because she lived with her unmarried boyfriend. That violated a 201-year-old law on the NC books at the time that made it a criminal offense for partners of the opposite sex to live together out of wedlock.

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Hobbs was “living in sin,” and was told to to marry her partner, move out of the house they shared, or leave her job. Sheriff Carson Smith said at the time that it was a moral issue as well as a legal question, and that he tries to avoid hiring people who openly live together, but he doesn’t send out deputies to enforce the law. The law, which ironically doesn’t apply to same-sex couples (ha ha!), stated:

“If any man and woman, not being married to each other, shall lewdly and lasciviously associate, bed and cohabit together, they shall be guilty of a Class 2 misdemeanor.”

That ban on cohabitation was challenged by the state branch of the American Civil Liberties Union, and this week the law was overturned this week in a ruling issued by North Carolina State Superior Court Judge Benjamin Alford. citing the landmark 2003 U.S. Supreme Court ruling Lawrence v. Texas, which struck down the Texas sodomy law.

“The Supreme Court decision in Lawrence v. Texas stands for the proposition that the government has no business regulating relationships between two consenting adults in the privacy of their own home,” Jennifer Rudinger, executive director of the ACLU of North Carolina, said in a statement.

She added that “the idea that the government would criminalize people’s choice to live together out of wedlock in this day and age defies logic and common sense.”

Other states with cohabitation laws include: Florida, Michigan, Mississippi, North Dakota, Virginia and West Virginia.

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Pam Spaulding

Pam Spaulding