When I was 16, I attended Girls Nation in Washington, D.C. as a "senator" from North Carolina. Of all the inspiring experiences, I remember most vividly the words chiseled into the front of the U.S. Supreme Court building, "Equal Justice Under Law." It was at Girls Nation that I learned a fundamental principle of our constitutional democracy: Majority rule prevails except when it violates the equal protection of minorities. In 1801, Thomas Jefferson in his inaugural speech said: "All ... will bear in mind this sacred principle, that though the will of the majority is in all cases to prevail, that will to be rightful must be reasonable; that the minority possess their equal rights, which equal law must protect, and to violate would be oppression."
And it is on this constitutional basis, of equal protection under the law for all Americans, that federal courts all over the United States have overturned state bans on same-sex marriage.
Attorney General Alan Wilson joins a long line of South Carolinians throughout our history who have fought equal protection under the law ... and lost ... but not without creating rancor and needless anguish.
We can go back to the days after Reconstruction in South Carolina when progress for African Americans was answered with Ku Klux Klan-led violence and Jim Crow laws. Or, when women got the right to vote in 1919, and the 19th Amendment was sent to each state to be ratified, the S.C. General Assembly overwhelmingly rejected the amendment, and the amendment wasn't officially passed into law here for 49 years.
South Carolina fought equal protection under the law again when the U.S. Supreme Court ordered the integration of public schools, K-12. The S.C. Legislature adopted resolutions that declared the Court's decision to be "null, void, and no effect." South Carolina held out longer than any other state in integrating schools, desegregating none until 1966 and not officially ending segregation until 1970, 15 years after the Supreme Court ruling.
The legacy of South Carolina's resistance to equal protection under the law is seen today in our ranking as 49th in the number of women holding public office, 50th in public education, and among the 10 worst states to raise black children. When it comes to LGBT equality, the Daily Beast ranked South Carolina a "-1" on a 1-10 point scale.
Most legal experts agree that South Carolina is bound by law to accept the rulings of the U.S. 4th Circuit Court of Appeals on same-sex marriage and that we, once again, are delaying the inevitable. Why? Why do we obstruct the rights of minority after minority in South Carolina?
I don't know. It's a question I have asked myself almost daily since coming to South Carolina 31 years ago.
Here's what I do know. Our environment is changing. People, communities, states, nations, wildlife, even vegetables thrive when they adapt to a changing environment. Perhaps this time we could embrace the change which increases justice and equality for fellow Americans. Perhaps we could welcome a palette with more colors in order to create a richer picture. Perhaps we could see this change as growth and understand that the familiar is not always meaningful. This change for LGBT equality has its roots and reason in our Constitution (big "C") and our constitution (little "c") as Americans. That can only and ultimately be good.
Linda Ketner is co-founder and past president of the Alliance for Full Acceptance and S.C. Equality Coalition and on the advisory boards of the Riley Center for Urban Affairs and Policy Studies and the College of Charleston Women's and Gender Studies program. A Democrat, Ketner ran for the U.S. House First Congressional District seat in 2008 and narrowly lost to the Republican incumbent.