A sheriff's dispatcher in Pender County, North Carolina, Deborah Hobbs was living with her boyfriend when Sheriff Carson Smith ordered her to marry, move out, or give up her employment. Hobbs decided to quit.
Incensed, she said in a statement: "I just didn't think it was any of my employer's business whether I was married or not, as long as I was good at my job .... I couldn't believe that I was being given this ultimatum to choose between my boyfriend or my livelihood because the sheriff was enforcing a 201-year-old law that clearly violates my civil rights."
The American Civil Liberties Union took up Hobbs' case, challenged the law's constitutionality and won. State Superior Court Judge Benjamin Alford of New Bern struck down the law, citing the U.S. Supreme Court's decision in Lawrence v. Texas, which knocked down Texas sodomy statutes and declared a right to sexual privacy.
The ruling by Judge Alford doesn't apply statewide and wouldn't unless it should be upheld by the Court of Appeals. It currently only affects those involved in the litigation, which includes the Pender County Sheriff's Department, Sheriff Carson Smith, Ben David, the district attorney for Pender County, and North Carolina's Attorney General, Roy Cooper. Still, the judge's ruling clearly undermined the law and will likely result in its repeal or its never being enforced.
Judge Alford's decision was judicial activism at its best. The state's lawyers rightly argued Hobbs didn't have standing in the case because she never had even been charged with a crime. Moreover, legal experts still debate the meaning of the Lawrence v. Texas case and how it applies to state law.
Nevertheless, the most egregious effect of the judge's ruling was that it lowered a great moral standard. The North Carolina Family Policy Council, in a policy paper titled, "Living Together: How Cohabitation Undermines Marriage and the Family [PDF]," writes:
"North Carolina has many laws reflecting the principle that sexual activity should be reserved for the marriage relationship. These include the crime against nature statute; the torts of alienation of affection and criminal conversation; the abstinence-until marriage law; and rape and incest laws. All of these state laws complement one another as part of a seamless state policy that emphasizes marriage as the appropriate context for sexual activity. At a minimum, North Carolina's law prohibiting cohabitation sends the message that in this state, marriage is an institution that should be encouraged and protected. Out-of-wedlock sexual activity is responsible for the prevalence of sexually transmitted diseases, unwed childbirth, abortion and a host of other social ills that, if left unchecked, create significant problems for the state. Promoting marriage and sexual activity within marriage is a policy that encourages what is best for society and, in turn, what is best for the state."
Judge Alford's ruling is also significant as a reflection of the state's departure from what traditionally has been its moral compass the Judeo-Christian ethic. Of course, some would argue it's never right to impose one's morality on others by codifying it into law. Yet such is the very purpose of law. No public policy or legislation operates in a moral vacuum. The law has always been the means by which cultures state their values and what it is they want to protect.
The Seventh Commandment, "Thou shalt not commit adultery," which could also be correctly translated, "Thou shalt not commit sexual immorality," is the Creator's law an eternal verity that guards the great institution of marriage, the sanctity of the family, and the preservation of society. God didn't give this law simply because, as someone said, "Everything that's fun is either fattening or sinful." God gave this law because it's the only way that sex works properly.
John Bisagno in his book, Positive Obedience, declares: "When sex is lifted from personal physical fulfillment into the bonds of the union and sanctity of marriage where two personalities are becoming one, then it becomes a physical expression of what it is designed to be. Then it is hallowed. Then it is holy. The physical act of sex is only five or ten percent of the whole, a blending of two beings into one. But where there is no commitment in marriage, but only the union of two bodies, then you have second best; then you have disappointment."
Bisagno is right, and his premise is what more than four decades of research on cohabitation has confirmed. Jennifer Roback Morse in Why Not Take Her for a Test Drive? notes: "[R]esearch shows that cohabitation is correlated with a greater likelihood of unhappiness, and domestic violence in the relationship. Cohabitating couples report lower levels of satisfaction in the relationship than married couples. Women are more likely to be abused by a cohabiting boyfriend than a husband. Children are more likely to be abused by their mothers' boyfriends than by her husband, even if the boyfriend is their biological father. If a cohabitating couple marries, they tend to report lower levels of marital satisfaction and a higher propensity to divorce."
How foolish to spurn and break God's law, only to ultimately be broken by it.
Rev. Mark H. Creech (firstname.lastname@example.org) is the executive director of the Christian Action League of North Carolina, Inc.