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May 10, 2005 10:48 AM   Subscribe

Meet Deborah Hobbs. Having lived in direct disregard for North Carolina general statute 14-184 for years, she is only now beginning to feel the heat. The law prohibits unmarried couples from lewdly and lasciviously associating, bedding and cohabiting together. The law is catching up with her thanks to her former boss, Sheriff Carson Smith, who told her to get married, move out or find another job. In Sherriff Smith's defence though, he does try to avoid hiring people who openly live together, but says he doesn't send out deputies to enforce the law. Of course, this archaic law rarely gets inforced; between 1997 and 2004 only three dozen charges were filed in the state.
posted by jikel_morten (72 comments total)

 
what? no photos of the slatternly fornicatress?
posted by quonsar at 11:01 AM on May 10, 2005


Is this that red-state "small government" I've been hearing so much about?
posted by The Dryyyyy Cracker at 11:02 AM on May 10, 2005


What part of it is not legal to discriminate on the basis of familial status in housing does the Sheriff not understand?
posted by ilsa at 11:04 AM on May 10, 2005


"Only" three dozen. Only.

Unbelievable.

I love that comedy phrase... what is it again? Oh, you know the one... "Land of the Free", that's it! Cracks me up every time.
posted by Decani at 11:04 AM on May 10, 2005


I was kidding with the 'only' bit.
posted by jikel_morten at 11:07 AM on May 10, 2005


So... are they going to stone her or just make her wear a big red A on her chest?
posted by Kellydamnit at 11:09 AM on May 10, 2005


slatternly is the official Metafilter word of the day.
posted by xmutex at 11:13 AM on May 10, 2005


For once it's the heterosexuals that are getting harassed.
posted by Nelson at 11:14 AM on May 10, 2005


Good idea: Getting married early in order to share a bed with your significant other.

Bad idea: Taking the time to really get to know your partner.

At least they can always get divorced! Thanks again for the wisdom, N.C.!

Yeesh.
posted by ScottMorris at 11:15 AM on May 10, 2005


I lived in Wilmington for two years; not very surprising. Some folks in the rural areas surrounding Wilmington would talk to me (from Illinois) about those "fucking Yankees" and really honestly believed the "South would rise again."
posted by tr33hggr at 11:16 AM on May 10, 2005


Wilimington also has a lot of pretty areas and in general can be a very graceful little place.

Not that the Metafilterati would allow any dignity to the South.
posted by xmutex at 11:40 AM on May 10, 2005


Appalling. Thanks for the story.
posted by agregoli at 11:40 AM on May 10, 2005


The South is rising again...
posted by dopamine at 11:41 AM on May 10, 2005


Interesting that the sheriff's web site is "under construction"
posted by HuronBob at 11:42 AM on May 10, 2005


xmutex, you seem inclined to read more into my comment than I intended. Wilmington was an incredible town with a beautiful vibrant historic downtown and lots and lots of wonderful people. I've lived in the north and the south, and people are generally the same everywhere. Nonetheless, venture out of Wilmington into Castle Hayne or a more rural area, and things are different. Good and/or bad, but decidely different.
posted by tr33hggr at 11:43 AM on May 10, 2005


good thing she wasn't hosting high stakes beach bingo.

§ 14-309.14 Beach bingo Any person offering a prize of fifty dollars ($50.00) or greater is guilty of a Class I felony.

Unless otherwise specified by statute, presumptive prison terms for felonies classified under Chapter 14 and any other specific penalty statutes are as follows:

(7) For a Class I felony, imprisonment for 2 years.
posted by three blind mice at 11:47 AM on May 10, 2005


So people are the same everywhere, but not in rural areas? There are no ignorant people in urban areas? Or is this a matter of media and education, and job opportunities available in the areas? I've lived in the South long enough to know there are what I like to call backwoods intellectuals. I've seen them in camouflage at small-town libraries, checking out Umberto Eco books and whatnot. I absolutely kid you not. I've seen that very scenario.
posted by raysmj at 11:50 AM on May 10, 2005


Jesus Christ.

people are generally the same everywhere. Nonetheless, venture out of Wilmington into Castle Hayne or a more rural area, and things are different. Good and/or bad, but decidely different.

Anything else?
posted by tr33hggr at 11:51 AM on May 10, 2005


I'm fully aware of the dangers of generalizing stereotypes folks.
posted by tr33hggr at 11:52 AM on May 10, 2005


Not that the Metafilterati would allow any dignity to the South.

After reading stuff like this time and again, how can you blame anyone for being not just a little incredulous about it? Seriously, I have quite a few friends from South Carolina, Tenn., Ala., and Georgia and to a person, they've (and most of them aren't liberals, by any stretch of the imagination) been living in a constant state of humiliation for the past three years.
posted by psmealey at 11:54 AM on May 10, 2005


raysmj, I live in North Carolina (about an hour away from Wilmington) and have relatives in rural areas. There are very few backwoods intellectuals in these places.

My husband is from the Mountain West, and I had to explain to him that here the intellectuals live in the city, and the other sort don't. Where he is from, the situation is reversed.

Not trying to be a snob or anything. You do find a lot of good common sense in Mayberry-if you can get past the redneck-ism. And unfortunately that mindset is alive and well.
posted by konolia at 11:54 AM on May 10, 2005


But I thought people everywhere were the same - you were missing my point? What is cuasing the difference? Or is there no difference between persons, but only opportunities and examples for living, etc.? Having been brought up in a rural area, I don't think it's cool to say we're all "different," thanks.
posted by raysmj at 11:58 AM on May 10, 2005


I keep envisioning all these rednecks running down to the court house to marry their sisters so they aren't breaking any laws by living with them.
posted by terrapin at 11:59 AM on May 10, 2005


I was brought up in a rural area too, thanks. And I said generally. Are you missing my point?

What causes the difference? Job opportunities, education, income, religion, family . . . the same things that cause differences in all people. I never said all rural people are ignorant rednecks, did I? Or that all city-dwellers were erudite scholars, eh?

Like it or not though, I think you'll find more redneck-ism (to borrow a konolia-ism) in the rural South than in other places. I'd be happy to be proved wrong. Not JUST in the rural South, but moreso.
posted by tr33hggr at 12:01 PM on May 10, 2005


Also current law:

Children of incestuous couples are deemed legitimate. (Alabama)

No one may have sex in the back of an ambulance if it is responding to an emergency call. (Utah)

When having sex, only the missionary position is legal. (Florida)
posted by Specklet at 12:01 PM on May 10, 2005


No, you were missing mine - again, do people have the same wants and need for themselves and their families and friends everywhere, or are there differences related to education, opportunity, job availability (I'd guess that's a big one in NC today, given the decline of the textile industry and tobacco), etc.?
posted by raysmj at 12:03 PM on May 10, 2005


Sorry raysmj, that came out more snarky than I thought.
posted by tr33hggr at 12:04 PM on May 10, 2005


Basically, if the south would like to stop having an inferiority complex, they need to stop doing things that make normal people think their inferior.

This would be a prime example.

The fact that there are ANY charges in the last several years, much less dozens, is appalling.
posted by benjh at 12:05 PM on May 10, 2005


I guess (and this is just a guess) that the kind of "redneck-ism" we're talking about is more closely tied to family, religion, and political persuasion. I'm somewhat inclined to also think it's tied to education, but I've met plenty of racist homophobic Ph.D.s.

At the end of the day, I don't know what goes into the mish-mash that makes people the way they are. But I can say that I observe differences in the way people "are" here in my hometown as opposed to, say, northern Wisconsin, or New Orleans.
posted by tr33hggr at 12:06 PM on May 10, 2005


Don't forget that backwoods intellectual that was famous for wearing hoodies and aviator glasses.
posted by schyler523 at 12:07 PM on May 10, 2005


Specklet writes " No one may have sex in the back of an ambulance if it is responding to an emergency call"

The incident that caused this law to be written must have been hilarious. Probably tragic too, but nevertheless hilarious.
posted by nkyad at 12:10 PM on May 10, 2005


Basically, if the south would like to stop having an inferiority complex, they need to stop doing things that make normal people think their inferior.

Would confusing their and the conjunction they're qualify one as inferior or normal?
posted by xmutex at 12:10 PM on May 10, 2005


xmutex writes " Would confusing their and the conjunction they're qualify one as inferior or normal?"

Inferior. It may even be called red-neckish in some quarters. Therefore, benjh must be from the South.
posted by nkyad at 12:14 PM on May 10, 2005


But I can say that I observe differences in the way people "are" here in my hometown as opposed to, say, northern Wisconsin, or New Orleans.

Or generally are, you mean. If you get to talking to people in New Orleans, you might find out that plenty of them weren't born there. And there are ideologically driven buffoons in New Orleans!! The reason it's blue is mainly due not to more educated people and tolerance of difference, although that helps. The reason it went blue in '04 is mostly a consequence of its majority black population.

Granted, I wouldn't see even your ideologically driven nuts of the right-wing sort in NoLa going after people for shacking up. There is culture and history at work here, certainly. But you might be seeing, as I think is the case with religion and politics in the Deep South generally, a sort of last stand or backlash. I believe rates of cohabitation are increasing in much, if not most, of the South faster than they are elsewhere.
posted by raysmj at 12:31 PM on May 10, 2005


xmutex writes " Would confusing their and the conjunction they're qualify one as inferior or normal?"

Well, hey, while we're getting pedantic, I think "they're" is a contraction. . .
posted by Pliskie at 12:32 PM on May 10, 2005


Yup, generally is correct. To some extent, I think geography influences psychology and ideology. I can't prove it, don't know why or how, just what I observe. I've been plenty wrong before though, plenty of times.

On preview, lol Pliskie!
posted by tr33hggr at 12:34 PM on May 10, 2005


raysmj:

do people have the same wants and need for themselves and their families and friends everywhere...

I think you're absolutely right. Basics tend to cut across all cultures, no matter where you are in the world.

I think what makes the South different, though, is the reaction that accompanies these sorts of things. When an obscure law like this finds the light of day, my feeling is that Southerners don't like to be told by the 'fucking Yankees' that they are back-woods hicks, so they get a bit defensive (understandably so) and then don't back down as readily as they should (yes, this is my opinion of what people 'should' do, of course people will differ with me here). My gut feeling is that if the same law were uncovered in California, or even a non-Southern rural state like Maine, it would get stricken pretty quick.

As an aside, jikel_morten, I couldn't find any attribution for the 'three dozen charges' figure that you cite. Can you provide a link? Thanks.
posted by newscouch at 12:49 PM on May 10, 2005


"really honestly believed the "South would rise again." "
I've heard this tr33hggr. I like asking those folks "aren't you a patriot? Don't you believe in America?" and watching their heads 'esplode.
I've found most of the Southerners I've interacted with to be very level headed whatever their politics. Most.
posted by Smedleyman at 12:51 PM on May 10, 2005


newscouch, exactly. Every state has stupid old laws that get publicity from time to time, but the South has this massive inferiority thing that makes many Southerners get all defensive about them--when deep down, they don't really care, and are busily fornicating, drinking, and living in sin all the damn time themselves, even if they feel guilty about it on Sunday.

It's like the whole region is stuck at 14 years old when it comes to stuff like this--"Shut up! It is not stupid! Leave me alone! YOU DON'T KNOW ME!" Instead of just laughing, shrugging, saying "Yeah, we should get rid of that, shouldn't we? Ha ha."

Frankly, I am at a loss as to how to get Southerners past this attitude, though I have hopes for the younger generation.

And yes, I'm from there, I have known many lovely, intelligent, mature people from there blah de blah de balanced-viewcakes. They aren't the ones who make it onto the news for smuggling 100-pound statues of the Ten Commandments into the courthouse.
posted by emjaybee at 1:05 PM on May 10, 2005


"Only" three dozen. Only.

I'm not sure, but IIRC North Carolina allows, in some limited way, private citizens to file misdemeanor charges. Part of coming from English common law, which long allowed for private prosecution and AFAIK still does in some limited fashion.

I'd be willing to bet a nice meal that all of those three dozen cases are either private prosecutions from ex-spouses being nasty -- which is indeed stupid and wrong and unjust -- or people either pleading down to a cohabitation charge from domestic abuse, or having the cohabitation charge added to extend a domestic abuse sentence or otherwise aggravate the crime.

When having sex, only the missionary position is legal. (Florida)

Given that Lawrence means that it's legal to fuck people up the ass in every state, including Florida, I think it's safe to say that that law is just dead letters.
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 1:07 PM on May 10, 2005


Boy, this thread went in a direction I didn't expect. Talk about pedantry...

raymsj, yes, it may be your home. But every place that's not so nice for regular non-god-terrified folks to get by in is somebody's home. Parse the observation like a human, not like the hypersenstive love child of Lynne Truss and Will Safire.

And btw, tokens? Like those "redneck intellectuals"? Even when they're real (and I've no doubt you could find a few, Billy Carter was said to be one), they don't consistitute refutation of a generalization. If I say, "most people in Dundee NY are stupid", finding a smart person hiding in the back of their local library don't make that a lie.
posted by lodurr at 1:12 PM on May 10, 2005


As an aside, jikel_morten, I couldn't find any attribution for the 'three dozen charges' figure that you cite. Can you provide a link? Thanks.
posted by newscouch at 12:49 PM PST on May 10 [!]


There were roughly three dozen cohabitation-related charges filed in North Carolina between 1997 and 2004, according to state figures. But the number of people actually convicted under the law -- formally known as the fornication and adultery statute -- is not known, said Patrick Tamer, a statistician with the North Carolina court system.

You might need bugmenot on this one. I decided not to post it because of the subscription requirement, and at the same time forgot that it contained this tidbit. Sorry about that.
posted by jikel_morten at 1:20 PM on May 10, 2005


When having sex, only the missionary position is legal. (Florida)

Given that Lawrence means that it's legal to fuck people up the ass in every state, including Florida, I think it's safe to say that that law is just dead letters.


That was pretty much my point.
posted by Specklet at 1:24 PM on May 10, 2005


How did a post about a sheriff abusing an archaic and clearly unconstitutional law somehow get warped into an issue about yankee tools and southern cousinfuckers? There is a single issue here: It is the waste-of-flesh hiding behind his badge to harass and intimidate an employee.
posted by stet at 1:42 PM on May 10, 2005


When having sex, only the missionary position is legal. (Florida)

Nice. I think that from now on my "day-after" phone calls will include the phrase "You've been hit by a smooth criminal."
posted by the_bone at 1:47 PM on May 10, 2005


Specklet: But that means it's not current law. It might be words in a book called CODE OF FLORIDA, but it's not really a law as it has no legal effect. If you see what I mean.
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 1:48 PM on May 10, 2005


lodurr: It wasn't a generalization made, but a statement "people are alike everywhere," followed by a statement to the effect that rural people in the South are different. It wasn't a generalization made about people everywhere being the same. So don't get all pedantic with me, whose own profession is that of a social scientist. And I don't live in a rural area. I was born and raised in one.
posted by raysmj at 1:54 PM on May 10, 2005


In short, there was a statement regarding the universality of the human condition, and not a generalization, but this universality had an exception.
posted by raysmj at 1:58 PM on May 10, 2005


I live in Wilmington (one more month ... I'm counting the days, let me tell you) and edited an alternative paper here when this story came out. We sent a reporter to the sheriff's office (New Hanover County, where Wilmington is, not Brunswick County, where this took place, since the reporter lived in Wilmington) to try to turn himself in for cohabitation and crimes against nature (a felony). He got sent all over town (from the sheriff's office to the police, etc.) because, while nobody wanted to actually arrest him, nobody wanted to tell him he wouldn't be prosecuted, either. In the end they wouldn't arrest him.
posted by IshmaelGraves at 2:04 PM on May 10, 2005


Howdy, neighbor.
posted by konolia at 2:24 PM on May 10, 2005


Specklet: But that means it's not current law. It might be words in a book called CODE OF FLORIDA, but it's not really a law as it has no legal effect. If you see what I mean.

Yeah, you're right. I guess I did a poor job of making my point: statute 14-184 is "not only patently unconstitutional, but the idea that the government would criminalize people's choice to live together out of wedlock in this day and age defies logic and common sense."

Hence the ridiculous examples I gave. This law might be words in a book, but it's unbelievable to me that this woman (or anyone) could lose her job and/or be prosecuted for a violation of it.

That's all I meant.

posted by Specklet at 2:28 PM on May 10, 2005


What were his crimes against nature, IshmaelGraves?

I'm curious.
posted by jikel_morten at 2:32 PM on May 10, 2005


Next time I get one of those emails with a .ppt on funny laws in the US, I'm sure not going to laugh as much. I never thought that people would actually enforce this... Now I need to find me an island with some bird droppings. via.
posted by joaovc at 2:39 PM on May 10, 2005


There is a single issue here: It is the waste-of-flesh hiding behind his badge to harass and intimidate an employee.
Or a public servant protecting his own arse by making sure he isn't seen to condone criminal behaviour.
posted by dg at 3:57 PM on May 10, 2005


There's no constitutional right to shack up. Liberal judges are twisting the constitution to make it validate contemporary mores. But these issues are not matters of fundamental political rights (such as access to the ballot box), and they need to be resolved politically, not by unelected judges.

Given current practices, the law in question doesn't make much political sense, but that's not a constitutional question!

How do liberals sleep at night? Why not rally to have the law repealed through the political process, instead of expanding the "emanations" of the "penumbras" of the constitution yet another time?

The ACLU says "the Supreme Court has made it clear" that this sort of law is unconstitutional. All that means is that activist judges have declared to be part of the constitution what are in fact matters intended to be settled politically. And given the way people live now, there's every reason to think the law in question could be expunged from the books by the political process. But NO, we have to fuck around with the constitution some more.

What's the point of having a constitution when all it does is get twisted over and over to validate the prevailing popular sentiments of each new generation?
posted by peeping_Thomist at 4:02 PM on May 10, 2005


Ideologically one-sided = rural North Carolina? Or = metafilter? Because we're skipped the question of cohabitation law good or bad... apparently the answer to that is so obvious there is no reason to discuss it.

And yes, the previous cases are mostly the other parent in child-custody situations. Just not in the year between the separation and the divorce, because we also have a law that allows the normal parent to completely clean the bed-hopping parent's clock if they are in that kind of a hurry (and insist on making sure everyone knows about it).

And we have alienation-of-affection, so you can make sure you get that college education money for the kids before the sluts run after their next whim...
posted by loafingcactus at 4:06 PM on May 10, 2005


I doubt this is a case of the Constitution being "twisted", peeing_Thomist. It sounds more like it the law abridged the constitutional right to privacy, and has remained unchallenged to date. It's pretty clear-cut.

And frankly, since the Constitution and Delaration of Independence make clear that the rights enumerated in the Constitution and Bill of Rights are not exhaustive, merely representative, then people do in fact have the right to shack up.
posted by breath at 4:38 PM on May 10, 2005


The ACLU says "the Supreme Court has made it clear" that this sort of law is unconstitutional. All that means is that activist judges have declared to be part of the constitution what are in fact matters intended to be settled politically. And given the way people live now, there's every reason to think the law in question could be expunged from the books by the political process. But NO, we have to fuck around with the constitution some more.

I have extreme doubts that the people who wrote the constitution were just pissing in the wind when they established a body as the final court of appeals to decide cases according to their compatibility with the constitution and legal precident.
posted by KirkJobSluder at 4:39 PM on May 10, 2005


Sorry about that, peeping_Thomas. Freudian slip, eh?
posted by breath at 4:39 PM on May 10, 2005


Damn it! I gonna stop posting.
posted by breath at 4:41 PM on May 10, 2005


That was pretty damn good peeping_Thomist.

"Because we're skipped the question of cohabitation law good or bad... apparently the answer to that is so obvious there is no reason to discuss it."

There's a side other than the law pushing morality over property rights?
*looks about*
I'd be hard pressed to argue the other side of that. Ideologically you'd have to be a theocrat, clearly those folks are merely ignorant automatons of tradition. Must your IQ exceed 80 to have an ideology?
posted by Smedleyman at 4:51 PM on May 10, 2005


No one may have sex in the back of an ambulance if it is responding to an emergency call. (Utah)

Some laws are written out of necessity.
posted by effwerd at 5:14 PM on May 10, 2005


Whatever happened to common law marriage?
posted by yoga at 5:22 PM on May 10, 2005


Because we're skipped the question of cohabitation law good or bad... apparently the answer to that is so obvious there is no reason to discuss it.

Care to actually argue that case, loafingcactus? Try telling me that my previous acts of cohabitation was bad, for me, for you, for anyone at all, and you've got yourself an argument boyo. (Though thankfully I live in a place where bad laws are regularly and reliably expunged (and generally enver made it onto the books in the first place)).
posted by wilful at 6:22 PM on May 10, 2005


Ok, because the case is in the south, it does make it look like this sort of thing would only happen below the Mason-Dixon line. However, if you look at the graph in the article, it includes Michigan as one of the states having a law against heterosexual couples living together. I also used to live in an apartment in New York state owned by a 90-year old woman who had this same policy. When an unmarried couple tried to rent to her, she said her apartments were too small for a couple (they were pretty small…) and avoided telling them the real reason that she wouldn’t rent to them.

So, it’s not just a Southern problem….
posted by Nematoda at 7:26 PM on May 10, 2005


The ACLU says "the Supreme Court has made it clear" that this sort of law is unconstitutional. All that means is that activist judges have declared to be part of the constitution what are in fact matters intended to be settled politically. And given the way people live now, there's every reason to think the law in question could be expunged from the books by the political process. But NO, we have to fuck around with the constitution some more.

Go back to the top of the freaking thread. Read my link to the Department of Housing and Urban Development. There is no "Supreme Court made it clear." Congress made it clear. They passed a law. Thou shalt not discriminate in housing on the basis of familial status. Period. That includes marital status. That means Michigan's law is overruled too, and that means the little old lady who wouldn't rent to an unmarried couple is breaking the law too. That means this Sheriff who gave his employee the ultimatum to get married or move out did so in violation of fair housing law, to say nothing of his obligations under fair labor laws. Any district court would come to this conclusion. No need for the Supremes.
posted by ilsa at 8:01 PM on May 10, 2005


Things here in the Tar Heel state are going great... excommunicating Democrats and now firing those living in sin. Raleigh, you so lovingly rock G*d fearing my socks!!!
posted by moonbird at 9:13 PM on May 10, 2005


Let's not forget the woman in Texas who was arrested for selling vibrators to undercover cops.

Somebody up there mentioned "backwoods intellectuals" or some such thing.

Though I have to admit they exist, their ration to knuckle-dragging bible-beaters is more like 1 to 100 instead of 1 to 10.

Personally, I see no end to this silliness as long as the republicans keep playing the god card.
posted by rougy at 9:41 PM on May 10, 2005


rougy: My comment was made within a particular context, and I didn't say any of the words you acscribe to me, so you can save the sneer.
posted by raysmj at 10:14 PM on May 10, 2005


What were his crimes against nature, IshmaelGraves?

While I'm too tired to look anything up right now, I think the understanding was that 'crimes against nature' meant oral and anal sex. The reporter in question lived with his girlfriend, and presumably engaged in one or both of these acts.
posted by IshmaelGraves at 10:14 PM on May 10, 2005


I also used to live in an apartment in New York state owned by a 90-year old woman who had this same policy.

Kind of makes "Three's Company" come that much more alive to me.
posted by jikel_morten at 6:32 AM on May 11, 2005


yoga: Whatever happened to common law marriage?

Most places if common law marriage is contested it's not enough to merely live with a person. You have to do married things like file joint tax returns, refer to each other as husband/wife, list each other as next of kin, hold joint property, consummation, etc etc. If both parties say they are not married and they haven't told anyone they are married then they aren't married.
posted by Mitheral at 11:33 AM on May 11, 2005


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