Originally on WRAL.com

January 10, 2019

North Carolina is the only state in the U.S. that doesn't issue domestic violence restraining orders for victims in same-sex dating relationships.

A lawsuit now before the state Court of Appeals could change that, and Attorney General Josh Stein filed a brief on behalf of the state this week, calling on the court to declare this portion of North Carolina's law unconstitutional.

In North Carolina, a domestic violence protective order is known as "50B order," and for people who are not married or related, an order can be obtained only against a person "of the opposite sex." A lower court cited that section of the law in denying a protective order to a person who faced threats of physical violence following a breakup this year.

The plaintiff in the case is a Wake County woman who was threatened by a woman she was dating. The American Civil Liberties Union is representing her in the case. The group and Stein are asking for that section of the law to be struck down.

"No conceivable state interest is advanced by denying some North Carolinians the right to a protective order based solely on their sexual orientation," Stein's office said its filing.

"In recent years, Montana, Louisiana and South Carolina eliminated such exclusions either legislatively or judicially," ACLU legal director Chris Brook noted in a message to WRAL News.

According to the North Carolina Coalition Against Domestic Violence, 50B protective orders can be tailored by a judge to cover the specifics of a victim's case, including assigning custody of children or pets and temporarily banning the accused abuser from buying or possessing a weapon. Violating an order can be a criminal offense.

These orders can be obtained by people who are or were formerly married, whether they're straight or LGBT. They can also be obtained by people dating someone of the opposite sex.

But they're not available to same-sex partners who didn't marry.

Victims of domestic violence in same-sex dating relationships can obtain what's known as a "50C civil no-contact order," which is less broad and less enforceable than a 50B order and cannot be used to keep guns out of the hands of an accused abuser.

Stein's brief states that people in same-sex relationships are just as likely, and by some measures more likely, to suffer violence at the hands of an intimate partner. Its source is a Centers for Disease Control and Prevention report.

The brief asks the court not to strike the whole law down as unconstitutional, just the language limiting protective orders to couples of the opposite sex.

"This result would not only vindicate the constitutional rights of same-sex couples, but would also bolster the State’s strong law-enforcement interests in preventing and punishing domestic violence," the brief states.