By L.A. Williams
Christian Action League
April 29, 2021
A push to repeal North Carolina’s law against adultery was stopped in its tracks Wednesday after the Rev. Mark Creech, executive director of the Christian Action League, and others testified before the House Judiciary II Committee.
Criminal conversation, one of two so-called “heart balm” torts, occurs when a person’s spouse has a sexual relationship with a third party. Rep. Wesley Harris (D-Mecklenburg), sponsor of House Bill 485, called the law archaic and antiquated and pointed out that North Carolina is one of only six states that still have such a statute on the books. Rep. Bill Richardson (D-Cumberland) called it “harsh and cruel” and claimed that it is often used by lawyers in domestic cases to extort alimony for their clients.
But Ed Parker, a 47-year veteran attorney, told the committee that the criminal conversation law has stood the test of time and is still very relevant, especially as it is part and parcel of alienation of affection, the other “heart balm” tort. That law allows a married person to file suit against a third party whose actions they believe destroyed the love and affection in their marriage.
Jere Royall, counsel for the North Carolina Family Policy Council, also spoke against HB 485, saying that those who commit adultery should be held accountable and that the law attempts to maintain a buffer around marriages.
“We believe North Carolina should do everything it can to preserve, protect and defend marriages,” he said.
The Rev. Creech echoed that sentiment and said repealing the criminal conversation law would eliminate any recourse an aggrieved spouse has against a third party who had sex with their spouse which contributed to the failure of the marriage.
He said the law is about “protecting the sacredness of the marriage bond,” and that it works as a “deterrent to home wrecking.”
“Without this tort, marriage is unquestionably more vulnerable, and surely we should highly value that which remains the nucleus of our society. … To repeal this law makes the state complicit with an act that studies say usually kills a marriage,” Creech said. “The Christian Action League believes we still need a law, like the one we currently have, that says, ‘would-be adulterers, beware. In North Carolina, having an affair that contributes to the break-up of someone’s marriage may cost you in a big way.’”
To refute the claim that the criminal conversation law is antiquated, Creech told lawmakers that even while social norms have changed, a 2017 study showed that three-quarters of Americans still believe adultery is wrong.
Read Rev. Creech’s testimony in its entirety by going here.
Bill sponsors had originally included one provision that would reduce the separation period prior to a divorce from a year to six months and another that would have abolished the alienation of affection law as well as criminal conversation. Instead, Judiciary II entertained a proposed committee substitute dealing only with criminal conversation. Lawmakers split on the matter, 4-4, effectively killing the bill.