RALEIGH, North Carolina — The state’s highest court ruled Friday that victims of domestic violence in same-sex relationships can get emergency restraining orders, overturning a law that made North Carolina the only State of the country not to have such protections.
As written, state law allows same-sex couples to apply for domestic violence protection orders only if they are married or divorced. The North Carolina Supreme Court ruling, however, upholds a 2020 appeals court ruling in which justices said the measure violated the state constitution’s guarantee of equal protection before the court. law.
The court ruling ends, once and for all, North Carolina’s status as the only state in the nation that has barred victims of domestic violence in unmarried same-sex relationships from obtaining protective orders.
The case came to the North Carolina Supreme Court years after a breakup and domestic dispute between two women listed in court records by their initials only. The plaintiff, known only as ‘ME’, appealed after a Wake County District Court ruled she was not eligible for a domestic violence protection order because the couple had never been married and was in a same-sex relationship.
The plaintiff’s attorney, Amily McCool, said in a statement Friday that the victory belonged to her client.
“She has fought bravely and tirelessly for nearly 4 years to ensure that not only does she get the protection she deserves, but that all victims of same-sex relationships in North Carolina get it too,” McCool said. “I was humbled and honored to advocate on his behalf with the ACLU of NC and others.”
Lawyers for Nelson Mullins Riley & Scarborough, who represented the unnamed defendant, did not respond to a request for comment Friday afternoon.
The judges, however, did not consider whether the state law was at all constitutional. Instead, they considered several technical arguments of the defendant in its appeal to the court. This included a problem with the documents the complainant had filed during her initial domestic violence complaint.
But the court’s liberal bloc did not find those arguments persuasive, noting that the plaintiff essentially corrected her mistake in an hour. The resulting decision, Judge Robin Hudson wrote for a four-member majority, left the constitutional decision “undisturbed.”
“For more than a century, the courts of North Carolina have upheld the fundamental principle that the administration of equity and justice prohibits the elevation of form at the expense of substance,” Hudson wrote.
A number of high-profile LGBTQ advocacy organizations submitted briefs from friends of the court in the case, arguing that the state law was unconstitutional.
So did Democratic Attorney General Josh Stein, who on Twitter Friday called the decision a “significant victory for equality” in North Carolina.
“It doesn’t matter who you are – every person in North Carolina deserves to be treated equally under the law and to be safe from their abusers,” Stein wrote in the tweet.
Conservative Justice Phil Berger Jr. is the dissenter, joined by Justice Tamara Barringer and Chief Justice Paul Newby.
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