North Carolina adultery law remains on books after repeal effort fails

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North Carolina lawmakers killed a bill this week that would have repealed a more-than-a-century-old law that allows people to sue their spouse’s lover for “alienation of affection,” according to reports.

Members of the House judiciary committee split 4-4 Wednesday on whether to advance the bill, with some of those in favor of keeping it arguing its repeal would be “legalizing adultery,” according to the News & Observer in Raleigh. 

North Carolina is only one of a handful of states that have similar laws.

State Rep. Wesley Harris, a Democrat who sponsored the bill, contended the law was both “archaic and antiquated.” 

“This was started in the 1700s in Great Britain when women were still treated as property of their husbands,” he said, according to WRAL-TV in Raleigh.

Jere Royall, director of community impact and counsel for the North Carolina Family Policy Council, disagreed.

“We believe that the state’s policy should remain clear – that marriages are worth protecting … and that a third party who has committed adultery will be held accountable and liable for their actions,” he said, according to WRAL.

The Rev. Mark Creech, executive director of the Christian Action League of North Carolina, said the law was an “effective deterrent to home-wrecking.”

In the hearing, Rep. Jon Hardister, a Republican who supported repealing the law, said, “I want to preserve marriages as much as the next person, but it is between two spouses.”

Rep. Billy Richardson, a Democrat, said the “cruel and harsh” law is often misused by divorce lawyers as  “blackmail” to get a better settlement, WRAL reported.

Last month, former state Sen. Rick Gunn settled a lawsuit brought by the husband of his then-legislative assistant who accused the two of having an affair, the News & Observer reported.

In 2009, when Democrats had control of the Statehouse, they narrowed the occasions when a spouse could sue over an affair.

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