Burgaw, NC – Judge Benjamin Alford's ruling strikes down a 201-year-old ban on cohabitation in the state. Lawyers for both sides are expected to officially sign the ruling in the next few days.
North Carolina's chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union brought the lawsuit on behalf of a former Pender county emergency dispatcher, Debora Hobbs, who quit her job in 2004 after sheriff Carson Smith demanded she either marry her boyfriend or stop living with him.
ACLU-NC executive director Jennifer Rudinger says her group found more than three-dozen prosecutions under the law, and that it has also been cited in everything from custody cases to health insurance coverage decisions.
Rudinger, who's lawyers are still looking over the decision, said the ruling hinges on the Supreme Court's 2003 finding in the case of Lawrence-v.-Texas, which struck down a Texas anti-sodomy law. "Lawrence really stands for the proposition that the government has no business regulating relationships between two consenting adults in the privacy of their own home," she said.
Pender county attorney Trey Thurman said he has to discuss the ruling with other county officials before deciding whether to move forward. But Thurman also said the ruling ultimately vindicates the county.
"The county is not ruled against," Thurman said. "The sheriff is not ruled against. The judge's ruling is based entirely upon a determination that the state statute is unconstitutional."
State Attorney General Roy Cooper's office now has a month to decide whether to appeal the ruling.
North Carolina is one of 7 states that ban cohabitation.