Local and State News

Appeals Court Ruling Could Bring Same-Sex Marriage to S.C.

By Eva Moore
Wednesday, July 30, 2014
sc pride parade columbia sc
SC Pride marches up Sumter Street. Photo by James Scott

The federal 4th Circuit Court of Appeals ruled Monday that Virginia’s ban on same-sex marriage is unconstitutional.

“Civil marriage is one of the cornerstones of our way of life,” the three-judge panel wrote. “It allows individuals to celebrate and publicly declare their intentions to form lifelong partnerships, which provide unparalleled intimacy, companionship, emotional support and security. … Denying same-sex couples this choice prohibits them from participating fully in our society.”

While the decision doesn’t change anything immediately in South Carolina, the state is in the 4th Circuit, and the Virginia decision will set a precedent as appeals of South Carolina’s own anti-gay-marriage amendment make their way through the courts.

Asked what she would do if a gay couple were to apply for a marriage license in Richland County, Probate Judge Amy McCulloch said Tuesday that state law would prevent her from granting the license — for now.

“I would smile and say, ‘Current law would prevent me from doing this, but I hope it changes soon,’” McCulloch told Free Times. “I’m hopeful either the Legislature will change our current statutes to allow for that to happen, or that the statutes are found unconstitutional by a court.”

In 2006, South Carolina voters overwhelmingly approved an amendment defining marriage as between one man and one woman. Since then, though, the U.S. Supreme Court has overturned the federal Defense of Marriage Act and paved the way for courts to overturn state bans on same-sex marriage. Public opinion on same-sex marriage has shifted dramatically, too. Even in conservative South Carolina, a 2012 poll found a slight majority supports either civil unions or marriage for same-sex couples. A 2013 poll found 52 percent of South Carolinians opposed to same-sex marriage — much smaller than the 78 percent who approved the 2006 amendment.

An appeal of South Carolina’s amendment is pending: Katherine Bradacs and Tracie Goodwin, two Lexington County women raising three children together, filed an appeal of the law in 2013. Their case has been on hold in U.S. District Court while the Virginia decision was pending; it can now move forward.

“Today, love wins in Virginia, and this ruling has a chance of having an impact on South Carolina’s own case in the courts, Bradacs v. Haley, which has been on hold waiting for this ruling,” said South Carolina Equality Director Ryan Wilson in a statement. The group lobbies for LGBT rights in South Carolina.

States are reacting differently to news of the rulings.

In North Carolina, Attorney General Roy Cooper, a Democrat, announced Monday he is dropping his defense of that state’s anti-same-sex marriage amendment in light of the 4th Circuit decision.

According to IndyWeek, Cooper believes the 4th Circuit ruling is binding on North Carolina judges, and that the state’s amendment will be ruled unconstitutional.

By contrast, South Carolina leaders told reporters they’d defend the state’s constitutional amendment. However, their tone was muted.

J. Mark Powell, communications director for South Carolina’s attorney general, Alan Wilson, said Wilson is reviewing the ruling.

“The 4th Circuit ruling is fairly lengthy and our attorneys are reviewing its impact on South Carolina and the Bradacs case,” Powell wrote. “Currently, South Carolina’s law remains intact, and, of course, our office will continue to defend it. … Ultimately, this will be a decision for the U.S. Supreme Court. People should not rush to act or react until that time when a decision is made by the highest court in the land.”

The governor echoed that cautious statement.

“This administration will continue to uphold the will of the people,” Gov. Nikki Haley said in a statement, according to The State. “Ultimately, the U.S. Supreme Court will decide this issue, and until that time, South Carolina will continue to be governed by the laws of our state.”

The fieriest statement on the issue came from Thomas Ravenel, a former Republican who is running against U.S. Sen. Lindsey Graham as an independent. Freedom from discrimination based on sexual orientation is a fundamental right, Ravenel said. 

“I strongly support the court’s ruling,” Ravenel said in a statement. “While I feel the government has no place in marriage, if it is going to confer benefits on heterosexual married couples, the government must also under the Fourteenth Amendment’s equal protection clause treat gay marriages the same. Many Republicans also support this position, but Republican politicians like Lindsey Graham have been silenced and intimidated by the strident, intolerant and hateful voices of certain religious right leaders. Those voices do not intimidate me.”

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