Wednesday, January 19, 2005

Thou shalt not lewdly and lasciviously associate

File this one in the I thought people who warned us about things like this were just being unreasonably pessimistic alarmists file. In seven states, it is illegal for men and women who are romantically involved but unwed to live together. What's more, the law is at least sometimes enforced. Here's one version of the law, from the website of the North Carolina state legislature:
§14‑184. Fornication and adultery. 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: Provided, that the admissions or confessions of one shall not be received in evidence against the other.
And this isn't one of those awful never-enforced laws; it is actively being used to discriminate against unmarried people, and to pressure them to get married. For example:
In his court in Charlotte, U.S. Magistrate Judge Carl Horn III is known for routinely asking defendants, no matter what their charge, whether they are living with unmarried partners. If the answer is yes, Horn insists that they agree to change their situation — by marrying or moving — before he will release them from the courtroom.
And the law is very much alive and well. I read a court case today (Browning v. Helff, 136 N.C.App. 420 (2000)) about a mother who used it to strip her ex-husband of visitation rights for their two children. Two years after they seperated, another woman moved in with the father.
The children are aware that defendant and Karen Barone share a bedroom and the children may have seen them in bed together once or twice. Karen Barone is a good friend to the children and is involved in every part of their lives. Plaintiff admitted that it was possible that the five year-old child's statements, as reported by plaintiff in court, had been influenced by his visit with the preacher. When asked whether the children had a good relationship with defendant, plaintiff replied, "As far as I know." The children are doing well in school and have adjusted to the separation and divorce of their parents.
Nevertheless, the trial court found that
a substantial change of circumstances had occurred since the entry of the Memorandum. Specifically, plaintiff contended she had discovered that defendant "resides with a person of the opposite gender to whom he is not related by blood or marriage[,]" and that "[t]he minor children should not be exposed to the Defendant's cohabitation with a person of the opposite sex during periods of visitation."*
Maybe we should get the Family Research Council on the line; I'm sure they'd use their extensive political capital to protect families from this unjust law. *Happily, the decision I cite reversed the trial court's decision, finding that although the defendent was acting illegally by living with a woman while unmarried, there was no evidence that this was harming the children.

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