ACLU and Former 911 Dispatcher File Lawsuit Challenging North Carolina Anti-Cohabitation Law

March 28, 2005 12:00 am

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BURGAW, NC – The American Civil Liberties Union of North Carolina today filed a lawsuit on behalf of Debora Hobbs, an unmarried woman who lost her job as a 911 dispatcher simply because she chose to live with her boyfriend in violation of a 200-year-old state law that makes it a criminal offense for partners of the opposite sex to live together out of wedlock.

“The Supreme Court has made it clear that the government has no business regulating relationships between two consenting adults in the privacy of their own home,” said Jennifer Rudinger, Executive Director of the ACLU of North Carolina. “North Carolina’s cohabitation law is not only patently unconstitutional, but 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 ACLU is challenging North Carolina’s anti-cohabitation law on the grounds that it violates numerous federal and state constitutional rights guaranteed under the First, Fourth, Fifth, Ninth and Fourteenth Amendments to the United States Constitution as well as Article I, § 19 of the North Carolina Constitution. The law, General Statute § 14-184, 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.

In February 2004, shortly after starting her job as a 911 dispatcher for the Pender County Sheriff’s Office, Debora Hobbs was advised by her employer that because she was living with her unmarried male partner in violation of state law, she would be required to either marry her partner, move out of the house they shared together, or leave her job.

“I just didn’t think it was any of my employer’s business whether I was married or not, as long as I was good at my job,” said Hobbs. “I couldn’t believe that I was being given this ultimatum to choose between my boyfriend or my livelihood because the sheriff wanted to enforce a 200-year-old law that clearly violates my civil rights.”

The lawsuit, which was filed in state superior court in Pender County, asks the court to declare that the anti-cohabitation law is unconstitutional and to issue an injunction preventing it from ever being enforced in the future.

Attorneys on the case are ACLU of North Carolina Cooperating Attorney Jeffrey S. Miller and Staff Attorney Shelagh R. Kenney; and Harry P. Cohen, Ivan J. Dominguez, Peter J. Isajiw, Sheila Yousefi (admission pending) and David J. Ward with the law firm of Cadwalader, Wickersham & Taft LLP in New York.

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