Wednesday, August 14, 2013

Legal team forms to explore options for same-sex couples in S.C.

Group is reviewing all aspects of the law

Posted by Corey Hutchins on Wed, Aug 14, 2013 at 4:10 PM

click to enlarge In this year's Pride Week issue, we profiled Rebekkah and Jackie, a gay couple who say they plan to marry out of state. - JONATHAN BONCEK
  • Jonathan Boncek
  • In this year's Pride Week issue, we profiled Rebekkah and Jackie, a gay couple who say they plan to marry out of state.
Are you in a same-sex relationship in South Carolina and want to know your legal options following the U.S. Supreme Court's decision striking down a section of the Defense of Marriage Act? 

Attorneys for a South Carolina GLBT rights group and the American Civil Liberties Union, among others, have formed a special legal team to help. The Post-DOMA Litigation Task Force “will focus on legal options available to same-sex couples who live in South Carolina but have a legal marriage from one of the 13 states and Washington, DC which currently offer marriage,” according to a statement today from South Carolina Equality. Six additional states allow unions or full domestic partnerships for gay and lesbian couples. The team is reviewing every aspect of the Supreme Court's ruling, South Carolina's laws, and the state and federal court system. 

"Advice from this Task Force ... will be based on an extensive review of case history and legal expertise, with emphasis on the specifics of the South Carolina judicial system needed to win the any case that comes before us," according to the group's website. 

In South Carolina, same-sex couples who have applied for marriage licenses have been consistently denied. In January, a lesbian couple was turned down when they applied for a marriage license at a courthouse in Charleston.

“In the United States, the zip code where you live should not determine whether you have full equality under the law,” said SC Equality director Ryan Wilson in a statement. “There are many same-sex couples, like my partner and I, who are living in South Carolina with legally binding marriages from another state who are being denied recognition by South Carolina’s various state agencies.” He said he and his partner shouldn't have to move away from the beautiful state they've called their home “just to find a place in the country where we are given full, equal rights.”

Wilson told City Paper calls have flooded his group since the High Court's decision on DOMA came down in June. People want to know what their rights are in an area of the country where state rules are at odds with those at the federal level.

“We're not qualified to answer them or give legal advice,” Wilson says about the callers. “We finally realized we need lawyers who know this stuff [to help.]”

The group, all volunteers, is chaired by Malissa Burnette, a South Carolina attorney and SC Equality board member. They aren't just planning to rush out and file a lawsuit until they're really able to study the issues involved and find out the greatest needs of those in South Carolina whose legal same sex marriages are not being recognized, she says.

“Here we have a whole lot of confusion,” she told City Paper.

Some federal agencies defer to the states when applying benefits, such as the IRS, when determining a marriage, she says. So it remains to be seen what will happen to a couple who were married in another state but live in South Carolina when they file their taxes next year.

Another question might be whether the income of both spouses should be counted if one partner is trying to get a student loan though FAFSA in South Carolina but they were married in a state where same-sex marriage is legal.

“It's terribly complicated,” Burnette says. “We're just trying to sort it out.”

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