North Carolina Supreme Court decision keeps domestic violence ruling intact

Published 11:50 am Sunday, March 13, 2022

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North Carolina’s Supreme Court has upheld a lower court’s ruling that said domestic violence protection orders in the state must apply to same-sex dating cases.

The state’s highest court on Friday affirmed and altered a Court of Appeals decision from December 2020 that had involved a woman who ended her relationship with another woman in 2018 and feared for her safety.

The appeals panel had ruled that the state law laying out how protection orders are issued had treated LGBT people differently and therefore violated both the North Carolina and U.S. constitutions.

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The law allowed protection orders to be issued between former and current spouses and couples who live or have lived in the same household. But North Carolina appears to have been the only state that expressly prevented protection orders for people in same-sex relationships who are not spouses or former spouses and who are not current or former household members.

A divided Court of Appeals panel had reversed a local judge’s decision that denied the protection order to the Wake County woman on the basis on the limitations for granting one. The judge did issue a civil no-contact order to the woman, identified in the opinion only by her initials for privacy, but such orders are considered to provide fewer protections.

Several outside groups and individuals had filed legal briefs in the case, including Democratic Attorney General Josh Stein and Gov. Roy Cooper, who both favored Friday’s decision.

“Our state constitution provides robust protections against sex-based discrimination, including discrimination arising from sexual orientation and gender identity,” said Irena Como, an attorney with American Civil Liberties Union of North Carolina, which helped represent the woman seeking the order.

The state’s three registered Republicans on the seven-member court joined a separate dissenting opinion Friday. The court’s majority, Associate Justice Phil Berger Jr. wrote, had ignored rules of civil procedure in part to “allow reverse engineered arguments based on sympathies and desired results.”