Monday, July 28, 2014

Appeals court ruling could bring gay marriage to S.C.

With precedent set, an S.C. federal court could overturn the state same-sex marriage ban any day now

Posted by Paul Bowers on Mon, Jul 28, 2014 at 3:00 PM

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The 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals struck down Virginia's ban on same-sex marriage today, clearing the way for a similar ruling on the ban in South Carolina. The 4th Circuit includes South Carolina, North Carolina, and West Virginia, all of which currently have gay marriage bans in place.

The Rev. Jasmine Beach-Ferrara, executive director of the Asheville, N.C.-based Campaign for Southern Equality, says the ruling does not automatically nullify South Carolina's ban. In order for gay marriage to be legalized in the Palmetto State, a federal judge here will have to deem the ban unconstitutional.

"We're getting closer and closer. This is a tremendous ruling coming out of the 4th Circuit," Beach-Ferrara. "The ruling technically applies to Virginia. It has not yet gone into effect. What it does is establish clear precedence for federal courts in South Carolina, North Carolina, and West Virginia to apply to their own laws."

In fact, South Carolina has its own appeal in the works that could soon lead to a marriage equality ruling: Bradacs v. Haley. In that case, S.C. Highway Patrol trooper Katherine Bradacs is seeking the state's recognition of her marriage to her spouse Tracie Goodwin. The couple was legally married in Washington, D.C., in 2012, and they currently live in Lexington County, S.C.

Bradacs and Goodwin sued Gov. Nikki Haley and Attorney General Alan Wilson in federal district court in Columbia. The case was stayed in April of this year pending a decision in the Virginia case, Bostic v. Schaefer. Multiple challenges to North Carolina's Amendment One gay marriage ban are also in the works, including the prominent case General Synod of the United Church of Christ v. Cooper.

A spokesman for the S.C. Attorney General's office issued the following statement on the ruling today:

The Fourth Circuit ruling is fairly lengthy and our attorneys are reviewing its impact on South Carolina and the Bradacs case.

Currently, South Carolina’s law remains intact, and, of course, our office will continue to defend it.

However, it should be noted that in other circuits, stays have been granted following invalidation of individual state laws, which have caused confusion in those states.

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 2-1 decision in Bostic v. Schaefer upheld a ruling that Virginia's constitutional amendment defining marriage as between a man and a woman violated the 14th Amendment's equal protection clause. Judge Henry F. Floyd wrote in the decision:

We recognize that same-sex marriage makes some people deeply uncomfortable. However, inertia and apprehension are not legitimate bases for denying same-sex couples due process and equal protection of the laws. Civil marriage is one of the cornerstones of our way of life. It allows individuals to celebrate and publicly declare their intentions to form lifelong partnerships, which provide unparalleled intimacy, companionship, emotional support, and security. The choice of whether and whom to marry is an intensely personal decision that alters the course of an individual's life. Denying same-sex couples this choice prohibits them from participating fully in our society, which is precisely the type of segregation that the Fourteenth Amendment cannot countenance.

Meanwhile, further challenges to South Carolina's gay marriage ban could be in the works. On Wednesday, six LGBT couples from the Upstate will apply for marriage licenses at the Greenville County Probate Court in an act of protest.

"Each time we have been denied, but we will continue to walk up to that counter and call for full equality on a federal level for all LGBT people until they say yes," said Ivy Hill, a member of one of the couples, in a press release last week.

Beach-Ferrara says her organization is pushing courts to rule on state-level challenges now that the precedent has been set in the 4th Circuit.

"We're continuing to ask for everyone to stand up to a law like [North Carolina's] Amendment One," Beach-Ferrara says. "We're calling for courts to act, but we believe the urgency of these issues demands that we all act every day."

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