In a significant victory for the LGBTQ+ community, the North Carolina Supreme Court has upheld a Court of Appeals decision establishing that people in same-sex dating relationships are entitled to domestic violence protections. This decision is a huge step forward in ensuring that all survivors of domestic violence have protection under the law. Regardless of sexual orientation, everyone deserves domestic violence victims’ rights and protections.
Same-Sex Domestic Violence Protection In North Carolina
Scharff Law Firm’s Amily McCool represented the woman known only by her initials, M.E., who filed for relief from domestic abuse at the hands of her female partner. The Wake County district court ruled she was ineligible for a domestic violence protection order because the couple had never been married or lived together and were in a same-sex relationship. However, the Appeals Court ruled differently, finding that the law was unconstitutional as applied to M.E. and others in same-sex dating relationships, and the case recently went to the State Supreme Court which upheld the decision.
The NC Supreme Court’s decision changes everything. As the attorney representing M.E., Amily McCool outlines why the victory belongs to her client.
“She has courageously and tirelessly fought for almost 4 years to ensure not only that she has the protection she deserves, but that all victims in same-sex dating relationships in NC do as well,” McCool said. “I have been humbled and honored to advocate on her behalf with the ACLU of NC and others.”
What Did the Ruling Accomplish?
The court ruling upheld that no matter your sexual orientation, you have the right to safety in your relationship. Same-sex partners can now apply for Domestic Violence Protection Orders, including emergency restraining orders, without worrying about rejection due to same-sex relationship status.
This victory at the state level could be life and death for someone’s future. “Recent research shows that LGBTQ members fall victim to domestic violence at equal or even higher rates compared to their heterosexual counterparts.”(1)
More sobering statistics about domestic violence within the LGBTQ community include:
- 43.8% of lesbian women and 61.1% of bisexual women have experienced rape, physical violence, and/or stalking by an intimate partner at some point in their lifetime, as opposed to 35% of heterosexual women.
- 26% of gay men and 37.3% of bisexual men have experienced rape, physical violence, and/or stalking by an intimate partner in their lifetime, compared to 29% of heterosexual men.
- In a study of male same-sex relationships, only 26% of men called the police for assistance after experiencing near-lethal violence. (1)
Domestic violence often ends in violent or deadly attacks. All people deserve protection against violence. With the new protections in place, those in danger are more likely to seek help in a violent situation. Before now, the law did not always protect their rights, so the support needed was not guaranteed. However, all NC people now have protection against violence in a relationship.
Domestic Violence Protection History for Same-Sex Couples
According to the North Carolina Department of Justice, more than 157,000 North Carolinians were survivors of domestic violence in just one year. Before this ruling, North Carolina was the only state not allowing domestic violence protections for members of same-sex dating couples.
In North Carolina, the domestic violence laws were violating the state constitution. Our state constitution guarantees equal protection under the law. By refusing domestic violence protections due to sexual orientation, the state was ignoring the rights of an entire segment of our population. This victory at the state level shines as a beacon of hope for the LGBTQ+ community of NC.
Domestic Violence Laws in NC
In North Carolina, domestic violence is “the willful intimidation, physical abuse, battery, sexual abuse, or other abusive behavior as part of a systematic pattern of power and control perpetrated by one intimate partner against another.” While not all domestic violence is illegal, many forms of domestic violence such as assaults, fear of imminent danger, sexual violence, and harassment rise to the level of domestic violence under the law.
NC General Statute 50B defines domestic violence as something that happens in “personal relationships” defined as:
- Current or former spouses
- Persons of the opposite sex who live together or have lived together
- Persons related as parents and children, including others acting in loco parents to a minor child, or as grandparents and grandchildren
- Have a child in common
- Current or former household members
- Persons of the opposite sex who are in or were in a dating relationship with romantic involvement over time. A casual acquaintance or ordinary fraternization in a business or social context is not a dating relationship.
With this NC Supreme Court victory, the law changes to include those of same-sex orientation in a dating relationship regardless of the “opposite sex” language in the statute.
What IS Domestic Violence?
Domestic violence can include a wide range of behaviors including, but not limited to:
- Physical violence
- Sexual violence
- Psychological abuse
- Economic abuse
If you or someone you know is in a domestic violence situation, please seek help. The National Domestic Violence Hotline provides 24/7 support for those affected by domestic violence. You can reach them at 800-799-7233 or by chat at https://www.thehotline.org/get-help/. You can also find your local domestic violence crisis center at this website.
We Can Help
At Scharff Law, we recognize our own Amily McCool for her representation of M.E. and the victory at the NC Supreme Court as a significant step forward for LGBTQ+ rights in our state.
The state has denied these community protections that other North Carolinians have had for too long. This decision brings us one step closer to ensuring that all people are treated equally under the law. Regardless of sexual orientation, everyone deserves domestic violence victims’ rights and protections.
Amily and Scharff Law are committed to helping those living with the threat of violence in their lives. We can walk you through the protections available for you and any children. Helping individuals understand how to stay safe in relationships is our passion and privilege.
Contact us to find out what you can do if you feel unsafe. Start taking steps to live a life of freedom in our state. Find the help you deserve and get beyond the pain of living in a controlling or abusive relationship. We’re here to help talk to you about your choices, both within and outside the legal system.
- Domestic Violence and the LGBTQ Community
- NC Supreme Court Upholds Ruling that Domestic Violence Protections Must Apply Equally to LGBTQ+ Couples | ACLU of North Carolina
- NC Supreme Court allows LGBTQ domestic violence restraints | Raleigh News & Observer
- GS 50B-1 Page 1 Chapter 50B. Domestic Violence. § 50B-1
- National Domestic Violence Hotline: 800-799-SAFE (800-799-7233)
- NC Coalition Against Sexual Assault: nccasa.org
- RAINN: rainn.org
- Safe Alliance: safealliance.org
- The National LGBTQ Task Force: thetaskforce.org/take-action/domestic-violence
- Trans Lifeline: translifeline.org or US & Canada: (877)565-8860, International: +44 (0)20 3740 0200
- National Sexual Violence Resource Center: nsvrc.org/state/north-carolina
- North Carolina Coalition Against Domestic Violence: nccadv.org
- NC Council for Women Domestic Violence Commission: ncwomen.nc.gov/domestic-violence-commission
- Love Is Respect: loveisrespect.org