State Senator Thom Goolsby points to a North Carolina lawsuit from last year as an example of why the law is necessary.
A Muslim couple filed for divorce after 12 years of marriage, but the husband didn’t want to pay alimony. The North Carolina House concurred on the bill, sending it to Governor Pat McCrory for his signature.
“The man tried to get out of his commitments by claiming that she had previously been married under a Shariah law ceremony,” Goolsby says.
The woman had a brief, previous marriage followed by a divorce, but it was all done under Islamic customs and not through the state. If the marriage counted, she was a bigamist and the husband owed her nothing. The case, Mussa v. Palmer-Mussa, went all the way to the North Carolina Supreme Court, where the wife ultimately won. Goolsby says it never should have gotten that far.
“What the law attempts to do is make sure that women and children are protected from foreign laws that do not comport with our constitutional laws and basic constitutional rights,” he says.
The bill only applies to family court cases—that way it would not interfere with international business transactions, a concern of the North Carolina Bar Association, which opposed an earlier draft. The law also clearly targets Sharia, the Islamic code of conduct from the Quran and religious tradition.
But, neither Sharia nor any foreign law played a central role in Mussa v. Palmer-Mussa, according to attorney Matthew Leerberg, who represented the defendant.
“Even though there were some questions of religious law, or perhaps Shariah law, that were bouncing around in the case, the case ultimately was decided on 50-year-old principles of North Carolina law. The supremacy clause of the Constitution supplies that no law or judge can render a decision that violates it, “anything in the constitution or laws of any state to the contrary notwithstanding” Attorney Matthew Leerberg, for defendant
For that reason, the North Carolina Bar Association calls the legislation unnecessary. The American Bar Association has opposed similar bills in other states. Proponents point to cases around the country, like Mussa v. Palmer-Mussa, where courts have considered Sharia in divorces, child custody or domestic violence cases. Leerberg says it is common to analyze a person’s religion and country of origin for context in a family law case.
By the Pew Research Center’s count, North Carolina’s is one of more than 70 similar bills, introduced in Congress and 32 states. At least 5 states have passed these types of bills.
Source: Policy Updates
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