RALEIGH, N.C. (WNCN) – A Wake County woman said she “happy cried” after learning the state’s Court of Appeals ruled in her favor this week in a significant case impacting LGBTQ rights and survivors of domestic violence.
The woman, who requested to be referred to by her initials M.E. to protect her privacy, told CBS 17 in her first interview about the case that she took on this legal battle to try to help other people like her.
In a split decision, the court determined that judges do have to grant domestic violence protection orders to people who are in same-sex dating relationships. The ACLU of North Carolina, which argued on behalf of M.E., said North Carolina was the last state in the country that limited that protection to people in opposite-sex dating relationships.
“I had an idea of how bad North Carolina can be about these things, but I didn’t know it could trickle down so far as to protecting someone from a violent ex,” said M.E. “As a white female, I’ve never experienced discrimination. So, this was my first time. And, I knew this was my one way that I could change something and help other people like me.”
M.E. sought the protective order in May 2018 after ending a relationship with another woman. The appeals court noted her “allegations were significant” but her request was denied. The court’s majority found the state law is unconstitutional and must apply equally to people in same-sex and opposite-sex relationships.
“It means that no one is stuck. Because when you don’t have that protection that keeps that person away from you who’s abusing you, you feel like you’re stuck,” she said.
Court records show M.E. was granted a no-contact order for stalking at the time, but she said that didn’t go far enough.
“And, you feel like it’s just going to keep happening because even with the regular restraining order, she still broke it several times,” she said.
Irena Como, senior attorney with the ACLU of North Carolina, said the decision is significant because “it recognizes that domestic violence laws should apply equally to everyone in the state regardless of sex, sexual orientation or gender identity.”
Chief Judge Linda McGee wrote the majority opinion, with which Judge Wanda Bryant concurred.
Judge John Tyson dissented, raising concerns about procedural issues and said the court did not have “jurisdiction to consider any issues on the merits of this appeal.”
The case could still end up before the state Supreme Court.
“If I have to, I’ll be through it all the way. I’ll spend my whole life on it. I don’t care. I’ll fight it,” said M.E. “It’s definitely made me more bold and more willing to stand up for what I believe in.”
She had the support of Democratic Gov. Roy Cooper and Attorney General Josh Stein, who filed briefs in the case. Stein called the decision “a big win for equality.”
In a statement, Cooper echoed that sentiment and said, “State laws should protect everyone equally, including our LGBTQ community, and this ruling makes that clear.”
M.E. said she wants to work with and help other survivors of domestic violence.
“I need to get more active on it. I’ve been dealing with the stress of having this looming and it’s time to start paying it forward more,” she said.