The Defenders: Same-sex couples excluded from NC government forms
A state lawmaker is promising action after our Defenders investigation uncovered a lack of equality for victims of domestic violence.
Public records showed the paperwork required to file an order of protection excludes same-sex couples. Instead, North Carolina's domestic violence protective orders only make allowances for opposite-sex couples, those who are unmarried with a child and household members.
A spokesperson for the North Carolina Judicial Branch said the only way to change that language is through legislation.
"Forms are constructed to follow statutory language," communications director Sharon Gladwell said. "If a statute changes, the language on the form changes."
Freedom Center for Social Justice Founder and Executive Director Bishop Tonyia Rawls called the forms "exclusionary." Bishop Rawls ought to know. She is in a same-sex marriage herself.
"If that is true and we say that we're now a country that supports gay marriage, then everything else has to catch up to that," she said. "They need to be caught up with the realities of the civic rights people are given."
Bishop Rawls marries both opposite and same sex couples, but she knows not every relationship works out. She also knows when there's a problem, especially if someone's safety is at risk, orders of protection are critical.
"Some people are like, 'What's the big deal? Whatever, just write down the fact that I need protection.' Well, it is an extremely big deal as it relates to the law," she said.
Rep. Chaz Beasley (D), District 92, plans on filing legislation to make sure North Carolinians in all kinds of relationships are protected.
"My hope is we can address this, making sure that everybody is included," Rep. Beasley said. "We want people to know that they're not going to have their path to justice obstructed by the fact that there's some sort of technicality or some sort of antiquated language."
After we made him aware of the exclusion, the state lawmaker started researching the issue further, discovering North Carolina's current marriage statute is also outdated, clearly prohibiting marriages between people of the same gender, even though courts deemed that unconstitutional almost four years ago.
Rep. Beasley said he's working on a comprehensive bill with an emphasis on victim's rights that will update state laws to make sure they're keeping up with the times.
"Our laws are outdated," he said. "They need to change and they need to change in a way that does a better job of protecting people."
Attorneys told us judges have found a work-around for some same-sex domestic violence cases, encouraging lawyers to mark out the section of the form that says, "of opposite sex." However, they say there's not really a work-around for same-sex couples who don't live together.
Either way, advocates worry the current language opens the door for possible legal problems and could prevent people from getting the domestic violence support they need.
Last year alone, Mecklenburg County Sheriff's deputies served more than 3,400 protective orders, according to the sheriff's office. The number of orders served is up 19 percent since 2013, according to sheriff's office data.
South Carolina's domestic violence form includes similar language, which also exclude same-sex couples. The options in South Carolina include the wording "husband and wife."
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