Sun, May 15, 2005 - Page 7 News List

Get married or get fired, sheriff says

THE GUARDIAN , LONDON

An emergency dispatcher at a North Carolina sheriff's department was presented with an ultimatum after the sheriff discovered that she was living with her boyfriend outside of wedlock: get married, move home or find another job.

Carson Smith, the sheriff of Pender county, told Deborah Hobbs, 40, that her decision to cohabit was a moral and a legal issue.

"This is sort of like a double barrel," he told Star-News Wilmington. "It is a violation of general statute, and it goes against something that I believe -- it is a moral issue ... Personally and morally, I think it's best to be married if you're going to be living together."

North Carolina is one of seven states, including Mississippi, Florida, Michigan, Virginia, West Virginia and North Dakota, which prohibit cohabitation.

A 200-year-old law which outlaws fornication and adultery for "a man and a woman, not being married together," who live "lewdly and lasciviously" could result in a fine of US$1,000 and up to 60 days in jail. Between 1997 and 2003 35 people were charged under it, of whom seven were convicted.

Hobbs, who has been living with her partner for 12 years, filed a lawsuit to get the law changed.

She said after she was fired, "I want my fight to be about this law."

The American Civil Liberties Union has taken up Hobbs' case. North Carolina's law is considered vulnerable after the 2003 supreme court ruling on Texas's anti-sodomy laws, which made it more difficult for states to enforce laws regarding sexual behavior.

"Certainly the government has no right regulating relationships between consenting adults in the privacy of their own homes," said Jennifer Rudinger, the executive director of North Carolina's ACLU.

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