A state judge has ruled that North Carolina's 201-year-old law barring unmarried couples from living together is unconstitutional.
A lawsuit challenging the law was brought last year by the state chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union on behalf of a former Pender County sheriff's dispatcher. Deborah Hobbs, who had been living with her boyfriend, quit her job in 2004 after Sheriff Carson Smith demanded she marry her boyfriend or move out if she wanted to work for him.
State Superior Court Judge Benjamin Alford issued the ruling late Wednesday, saying the law violated Hobbs' constitutional right to liberty. He cited the 2003 U.S. Supreme Court case titled Lawrence v. Texas, which struck down a 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."
The suit names Smith, the Pender County Sheriff's Office, the state, Attorney General Roy Cooper and Pender County District Attorney Benjamin R. David as defendants. The state attorney general had argued that Hobbs couldn't challenge the law because she wasn't charged with a crime.
A spokeswoman for Cooper said Thursday that lawyers were reviewing the decision and hadn't decided on whether to appeal the decision.
In part, the law states: "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."
About 144,000 unmarried couples live together in North Carolina. The ACLU says North Carolina is one of seven states with laws that prohibit cohabitation.