Same-sex marriage in South Carolina
|Legal status of same-sex unions|
* Not yet in effect, but automatic deadline set by judicial body for same-sex marriage to become legal
Same-sex marriage has been legally recognized in the U.S. state of South Carolina since a federal court order took effect on November 20, 2014. Another court ruling on November 18 had ordered the state to recognize same-sex marriages from other jurisdictions.
Following the 2014 ruling of the Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals in Bostic v. Rainey, which found Virginia's ban on same-sex marriage unconstitutional, one judge accepted marriage license applications from same-sex couples until the South Carolina Supreme Court, in response to a request by the state Attorney General, ordered them to stop. A federal court ruled South Carolina's ban on same-sex marriage unconstitutional on November 12, with implementation of that decision stayed until noon on November 20. The first same-sex wedding ceremony was held on November 19.
In 1996, the South Carolina House of Representatives, by a vote of 82 to 0, passed a statute defining marriage as between one man and one woman. The South Carolina State Senate, on a voice vote, passed the bill. Governor David Beasley signed the bill into law.
On March 1, 2005, the South Carolina House of Representatives, by a vote of 96 to 3, approved of Amendment 1, a constitutional amendment banning same-sex marriage and any "lawful domestic union." On April 13, 2005, the South Carolina State Senate, by a vote of 42 to 1, approved of the constitutional amendment. On November 7, 2006, South Carolina voters approved of the constitutional amendment. On January 25, 2007, the South Carolina House of Representatives, by a vote of 92 to 7, ratified the amendment. On February 27, 2007, the South Carolina State Senate voted 41-1 to ratify the amendment.
Bradacs v. Haley
On August 28, 2013, two women married in the District of Columbia in April 2012 who are raising three children filed a lawsuit, Bradacs v. Haley, in U.S. District of South Carolina challenging the state statute and constitutional amendment that deny legal recognition to same-sex marriages established in other jurisdictions. The plaintiffs were a state highway patrol officer and a disabled veteran of the U.S. Air Force. They named the state's Governor and Attorney General as defendants. The case was initially assigned to U.S. District Judge Joseph Fletcher Anderson, Jr.
The case was reassigned to District Judge J. Michelle Childs on October 18, 2013. On April 22, 2014, Judge Childs stayed proceedings in Bradacs until the Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals disposed of the same-sex marriage case of Bostic v. Rainey, but she allowed briefing to continue.
Bostic v. Rainey was resolved in favor of same-sex marriage on October 6, 2014, with the decision by the Supreme Court of the United States not to hear an appeal, leaving Bostic as binding precedent in federal courts in South Carolina. Republican South Carolina Attorney General Alan Wilson announced that same day, that he would continue to defend the state's same-sex marriage ban in Bradacs. Judge Childs then lifted the stay on proceedings in Bradacs.
The plaintiffs filed a motion for summary judgment on October 20. On November 18, Judge Childs issued a permanent injunction against enforcement of the same-sex marriage ban only to the extent that the state refused to recognize "valid marriages of same-sex couples entered into in other states or jurisdictions and otherwise meet the prerequisites for marriage in the State of South Carolina, except that they are of the same sex" or denied equal treatment to the same. On the morning of November 19, 2014, Judge Condon began to issue marriage licenses to those who had applied prior to the state Supreme Court's order. Kayla Bennett and Kristin Anderson held their marriage ceremony outside of the Charleston County Probate Court, marking the state's first licensed same-sex wedding.
Condon v. Haley
On October 8, 2014, Charleston County Probate Judge Irvin Condon, citing Bostic v. Rainey, accepted a marriage license application presented by a female couple, the first same-sex marriage license application accepted in the state. In other parts of the state, some same-sex marriage license applications were blocked by judges. Attorney General Wilson filed Wilson v. Condon, requesting an emergency injunction from South Carolina Supreme Court to halt the issuance of marriage licenses to same-sex couples. On October 9, the state Supreme Court agreed to halt the issuance of licenses pending the resolution of Bradacs. Because a South Carolina couple cannot receive a marriage license until 24 hours after their marriage license application was accepted, no marriage licenses were issued to same-sex couples in South Carolina, pending the outcome of Bradacs v. Haley.
On October 15, 2014, a lesbian couple, Colleen Condon and Nichols Bleckley, represented by Lambda Legal and South Carolina Equality filed suit in federal district court seeking the right to marry, citing Bostic. The defendants included the Governor, the Attorney General, and Judge Irvin G. Condon, the state judge who was enjoined from licensing same-sex marriages a week earlier by the South Carolina Supreme Court. On November 12, U.S. District Judge Richard Gergel ruled for the plaintiffs and stayed his decision until noon on November 20. The Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals denied the state's request for a stay pending appeal or a temporary stay on November 18. Attorney General Wilson asked Chief Justice John Roberts, as Circuit Justice for the Fourth Circuit, for an emergency stay pending appeal later that day. He made an argument other states in similar cases had not made to the Supreme Court, that the principle of federalism known as the "domestic relations exception"–which restricts the role of federal courts in certain areas reserved to the states–requires clarification. Justice Roberts referred the request to the full court, which denied it with Justices Scalia and Thomas dissenting on November 20.
On December 1, Wilson asked the Fourth Circuit to suspend proceedings in this case pending U.S. Supreme Court action on writs of certiorari pending before it in other marriage cases like DeBoer v. Snyder. He told the court that he would be submitting a request for certiorari before judgment in Condon as well and that the other parties to this case did not object to his request. On December 16, the Fourth Circuit consolidated these cases and put proceedings on hold pending action by the U.S. Supreme Court on cert petitions in DeBoer. On January 14, 2015, Berger and Tillis petitioned the U.S. Supreme Court to review the case, bypassing consideration by the Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals.
Licensing and recognition
Some probate courts began processing marriage license applications for same-sex couples on November 19, 2014 and more of them on November 20. Judge Daniel Eckstrom announced on November 20 that the Lexington County Probate Court would continue to deny marriage licenses to same-sex couples "until this matter is conclusively resolved" or he is ordered to do so. The county later reversed itself and began to issue marriage licenses.
After Obergefell v. Hodges
In January 2016, HB 4513, the South Carolina Natural Marriage Defense Act, was introduced in the South Carolina General Assembly. The bill aimed to prohibit state officials from marrying same-sex couples and require the Attorney General to defend any official who is sued, or ordered by a federal judge to issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples. The bill died without any legislative action. A similar bill was introduced and subsequently defeated in Tennessee.
In late February 2018, six Republican lawmakers introduced the Marriage and Constitution Restoration Act to the South Carolina Legislature (one of the lawmakers requested to be removed as a sponsor a few days later). The bill died without any legislative action on May 10, 2018, when the Legislature adjourned sine die. Had the bill been approved, it would have defined marriage as a union between a man and a woman, declared all same-sex marriages "parody marriages" and prohibited the state from recognizing such "parody marriages". The bill would have thus been in violation of Obergefell v. Hodges, the 2015 Supreme Court ruling which found that same-sex couples have a constitutional right to marry, as well as the United States Constitution, which the lawmakers took an oath to uphold.
By June 26, 2016, Richland County, home to the state capital of Columbia, had issued 422 marriage licenses to same-sex couples. In that same time, Charleston County, South Carolina's third-most populous county, had issued 387 same-sex marriage licenses.
An August 2011 Public Policy Polling survey found that 21% of South Carolina voters thought that same-sex marriage should be legal, while 69% thought it should be illegal and 10% were not sure. A separate question on the same survey found that 48% of South Carolina voters supported the legal recognition of same-sex couples, with 19% supporting same-sex marriage, 29% supporting civil unions but not marriage, 51% favoring no legal recognition and 2% not sure.
A December 2012 Public Policy Polling survey found that 27% of South Carolina voters thought that same-sex marriage should be legal, while 62% thought it should be illegal and 10% were not sure. A separate question on the same survey found that 54% of South Carolina voters supported the legal recognition of same-sex couples, with 25% supporting same-sex marriage, 29% supporting civil unions but not marriage, 43% favoring no legal recognition and 4% not sure.
A February–March 2015 Winthrop University poll found that, among adults, 42.8% thought that same-sex marriage should be legal, while 52.7% thought it should be illegal.
- EXCLUSIVE: Gay couple files federal lawsuit attacking SC’s Defense of Marriage Law
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- Anti-Gay Bills in South Carolina, Tennessee Equate Same-Sex Marriage to Forced Sterilization Towleroad, January 9, 2016
- SC H4513 | 2015-2016 | 121st General Assembly
- SC H4949 | 2017-2018 | 122nd General Assembly
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