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New Court of Appeals ruling Allows LGBTQ North Carolinians to Get Domestic Violence Protections Under State Law.

A new Court of Appeals ruling allows LGBTQ North Carolinians to get domestic violence protections under state law.  

The Court of Appeals issued an opinion on December 31, 2020 in M.E. v. T.J., a domestic  violence case from Wake County. The trial court denied Plaintiff’s request for a DVPO because  she and defendant were a same-sex couple in a dating relationship. The trial court found that a  same-sex couple in a dating relationship did not meet the personal relationship definition under §  50B-1(b)(6). At the time of the enactment of Chapter 50B, same-sex marriage was not legal, and  the General Assembly specifically limited the protections of Chapter 50B to unmarried couples  comprising “persons of the opposite sex who are in a dating relationship or have been in a dating  relationship who have been romantically involved over time and on a continuous basis.” Id. 

Holding: The Court of Appeals held that restriction of relief to couples in an opposite-sex dating  relationship is unconstitutional.  

North Carolina was the last state in the country to deny domestic violence protections to  those in same-sex relationships. The ruling named the current guidelines unconstitutional in a  divided 2-1 decision.  

In the 91 page opinion, the Court gave an instruction on how we are to read that part of  the statute going forward:  

We therefore reverse the trial court’s denial of Plaintiff’s complaint for a Chapter  50B DVPO, and remand for entry of an appropriate order under Chapter 50B.  The trial court shall apply N.C.G.S. § 50B-1(b)(6) as stating: “Are persons who  are in a dating relationship or have been in a dating relationship.” The holdings  in this opinion shall apply to all those similarly situated with Plaintiff who are  seeking a DVPO pursuant to Chapter 50B; that is, the “same-sex” or “opposite sex” nature of their “dating relationships” shall not be a factor in the decision to  grant or deny a petitioner’s DVPO claim under the Act.  

Background: The Court ruling stemmed from the Wake County M.E. v. T.J. case back in 2018.  M.E was a survivor of domestic violence who was denied a protective order because she was in a  same-sex relationship.  

Although the trial court determined Plaintiff’s allegations “were significant” and  “Plaintiff had suffered unlawful conduct by Defendant,” as required by the statute, the trial court  denied Plaintiff’s request for an ex parte DVPO. The order denying Plaintiff’s request for an ex  parte DVPO stated that the only reason Plaintiff did not receive an ex parte 50B DVPO is  because Plaintiff and Defendant had been in a “same sex relationship and had not lived together.”  Id. Plaintiff received the same result at a M.E. v. T.J. Opinion of the Court in a June 2018  hearing on her request for a permanent DVPO. The trial court denied Plaintiff the protections of  a Chapter 50B DVPO and held that: “A civil no-contact (50C) order was granted  contemporaneously on the same allegations and had the parties been of opposite genders, those 

facts would have supported the entry of a DVPO (50B).” Id. As the trial court noted, it  contemporaneously entered a “No-Contact Order for Stalking” granting Plaintiff the lesser  protections afforded by Chapter 50C and there are no criminal remedies available under a  Chapter 50C Order.  

Plaintiff’s arguments on appeal were challenges based upon the Due Process and Equal  Protection Clauses of both our state and federal constitutions.  

After Obergefell, and other precedents of the Supreme Court, Plaintiff argued, there is no  longer any doubt that any two consenting adults have a fundamental right to marry each other— absent fraud impacting a legitimate government interest. As far as romantic relationships are  concerned, any member of the LGBTQ+ community has the same rights and freedoms to make  personal decisions about dating, intimacy, and marriage as any non-LGBTQ+ individual.  Therefore, there can be no State interest in interfering with Plaintiff’s liberty to date whomever  she wants to date, or to interfere with Plaintiff’s private and intimate choices related to dating  another consenting adult. Under the North Carolina Constitution, Plaintiff is similarly situated  with every other adult in this regard. Id. 

In the opinion of the court, Democrat Chief Judge Linda McGee wrote, “By telling  Plaintiff that her existence is not as valuable as that of individuals who engage in “opposite-sex”  relationships, the State is not just needlessly endangering Plaintiff, it is expressing State sanctioned animus toward her.” Id. 

“It’s a decision that the community should celebrate for the ways that it construes both federal  law as applied to North Carolina and North Carolina’s state constitution to acknowledge that the  history of animus or animosity toward the LGBT community and to say that that is not  something that can stand any longer in North Carolina,” said Ames Simmons, policy director of  Equality NC. (see the article below).  

https://abc11.com/society/lgbtq-nc-residents-gain-domestic-violence-protections-with-new court-ruling/9233589/ 

North Carolina has lagged behind other states in updating legislation to reflect current  case law and policy to try to increase equity for LGBTQ people. This ruling illustrates this point.  

Democratic leaders including North Carolina Gov. Roy Cooper, Attorney General Josh  Stein and the North Carolina Coalition Against Domestic Violence — who previously urged the  court to find the ruling unconstitutional — chimed in on the ruling:  

“This decision is a win for equality and inclusion and for our fight against domestic violence in  North Carolina. State laws should protect everyone equally, including our LGBTQ community,  and this ruling makes that clear,” said Cooper in a written statement. 

Moreover, in the area of domestic violence protection, this ruling is huge. With the  Covid-19 pandemic increasing domestic violence cases across the state due to statewide stay-at home orders issued by the governor, timing of this ruling is critical in protecting same-sex  couples in domestic violence situations. These communities certainly need and deserve the same  protection offered under the law to those who are victims in this regard.  

For a review of the case in its entirety, please follow this link:  

https://appellate.nccourts.org/opinions/?c=2&pdf=38184

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Hegedus, Hawkins & Stancil, PLLC offers legal knowledge and experience spanning 37 years to provide quality legal services to the greater Gaston and Charlotte regions.

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