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Woman Challenges North Carolina's Cohabitation Law

A former sheriff's dispatcher who quit her job after her boss found out she lived with her boyfriend is challenging North Carolina's law against cohabitation.

Debora Hobbs said she was told to get married, move out, or find another job after her boss found out about her living situation. The legal arm of the American Civil Liberties Union of North Carolina (search) filed the lawsuit Monday on her behalf.

The lawsuit seeks to abolish the nearly 200-year-old — and rarely enforced — law that prohibits unmarried, unrelated adults of the opposite sex from living together. North Carolina is one of seven states with such a law.

Convicted offenders face a fine and up to 60 days in jail.

"The government has no business meddling in the private relationships of consenting adults," said Jennifer Rudinger, executive director of the ACLU-NC Legal Foundation (search).

Hobbs had been living with her boyfriend for about three years when she was hired as a Pender County 911 dispatcher in February 2004. The couple decided they didn't want to marry; Hobbs quit last May rather than be fired.

Sheriff Carson Smith (search) said last year that Hobbs' employment was a moral issue as well as a legal question. He said he tries to avoid hiring people who openly live together, but that he doesn't send out deputies to enforce the law.

Hobbs declined to comment Monday. Rudinger said she is employed and still lives with her boyfriend.

Neither the sheriff nor Pender County Attorney Trey Thurman would comment.