Attaining same-sex marriage and equal rights for the Lesbian,
Gay, Bisexual & Transsexual (LGBT) community in South Carolina
Part 3: 2014-OCT: Marriage equality comes
to South Carolina, at least for two couples.
Two lawsuits proceed in federal District Court.
The term "LGBT" refers to the Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender community.
2014-OCT-08: Marriage equality comes to South Carolina, at least for two couples:
A few county officials in South Carolina briefly accepted applications for marriage licenses. 1
Charleston City Paper reported:
"Charleston County Probate Judge Irvin Condon said today that 'as a result of the actions of the United States Supreme Court on October 6, 2014, the Charleston County Probate Court is required to accept and issue marriage licenses for same-sex couples"." 2
The actions taken by the Supreme Court was to deny appeals of rulings on same-sex marriage issued by three U.S. Circuit Courts of Appeals. One of these courts was the 4th Circuit Court of Appeals which includes South Carolina in its jurisdiction. Since the high court refused to hear the appeals, then the decisions by those courts became final and most of the states involved quickly made marriages available to same-sex couples. Charleston County appears to be the first in South Carolina.
The first same-sex couple in the state to apply for a license was a member of the Charleston County Council, Colleen Condon and her fiancee Nichols Bleckley. Applications were also accepted in Richland County. Elsewhere, same-sex couples were told that the decision of the 4th Circuit Court was under review and no licenses would be issued.
However, Mark Sherman, writing for PBS on 2014-OCT-23, said:
"The writing is on the wall for gay marriage bans in Kansas, Montana and South Carolina after federal appeals courts that oversee those states have made clear that keeping gay and lesbian couples from marrying is unconstitutional.
But officials in the three states are refusing to allow same-sex couples to obtain marriage licenses without a court order directing them to do so. It could be another month or more before the matter is settled."
He was surprisingly accurate with his time estimate.
2014-OCT-15: Attorney General Alan Wilson (R) repeated his position on marriage equality:
Wilson told TV station WTOC:
"South Carolina has a law, as a constitutional provision, that defines marriage between a man and a woman. As the chief attorney for the state, it is my job to represent my client's interest and exhaust every legal option and remedy, and venue until there are no more venues and options to exercise, so that's what I'm doing as a chief attorney for the state." 3
Traci Washington, writing for WTOC concluded:
"Wilson said he's going to uphold South Carolina's current law, until the federal government decides otherwise."
Wilson was in a difficult position. He is being pulled in different directions:
- As he has stated, he is required by his oath of office to uphold the laws and constitution of the state of South Carolina, which clearly call for the ban on same-sex marriage to continue.
- He is also required by his oath of office to uphold the U.S. Constitution. During the previous 16 months, dozens of state and federal courts have interpreted the due process and/or the equal protection clauses in the 14th Amendment of the federal Constitution as requiring an end to same-sex marriage bans.
- He is running for reelection as a Republican on NOV-04 for the office of Attorney General. The vast majority of Republican voters in his state are still strongly opposed to marriage equality. He needs their votes, and so cannot take a pro-equality stance at this time without endangering his political future.
This is not a comfortable position for any politician. It is about as bad as it gets.
2014-OCT-16: A second lawsuit, "Condon v. Haley," was filed in SC federal District Court:
A same-sex couple, Colleen Condon and Nichols Bleckley, applied for a marriage license in Charleston County in early October. They were refused. Lambda Legal and South Carolina Equality filed new lawsuit on their behalf. These are both non-profit organizations which are heavily committed to LGBT rights. The case is based on the decision by the 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals' in McQuigg v. Bostic (formerly called Bostic v. Rainey). The Circuit Court found the very similar same-sex marriage ban in Virginia to be unconstitutional. That case was subsequently appealed to the U.S. Supreme Court. More details.
On 2014-OCT-06, the high court refused the appeal in the Virginia case. This made the 4th Circuit Court's ruling final and fixed. It is generally considered a binding precedent in all of the five states over which the court has jurisdiction: Maryland, West Virginia, Virginia, North Carolina and South Carolina.
Among these five states:
- Maryland is the most northern of the five states. Its governor signed a marriage equality bill into law on 2012-MAR-01. It has been in place ever since. More details.
- Three of the remaining states had marriage bans of their own in place. They were terminated on or shortly after 2014-OCT-06:
- Virginia attained marriage equality on OCT-06.
- West Virginia clerks have made licenses available to same-sex couples since OCT-09.
- North Carolina attained marriage equality on OCT-10.
However, the reaction in the most southerly state under the jurisdiction of the 4th Circuit Court -- South Carolina -- was very different. Both the Governor, Nikki Haley (R) and Attorney General Alan Wilson (R) refused to recognize that the 4th Circuit precedent is binding in their state. They are the only senior state officers within the jurisdiction of the 4th Circuit Court to take this stand. 4 They regard their state's constitutional ban of same-sex marriage to be still valid and enforceable.
It would seem that a case can be made that South Carolina governor Nikki Haley and Attorney General Alan Wilson have each violated their oath of office which requires them to uphold the U.S. Constitution. They have stated that they will only allow same-sex couples to marry if they are specifically ordered to do so in the future by a specific court order.
Beth Littrell, Senior Attorney at Lambda Legal, said:
"The Fourth Circuit’s decision means that same-sex couples in South Carolina should be shopping for a caterer, not a lawyer. Governor Haley and Attorney General Wilson cannot continue to ignore the rule of law. Fortunately, they have run out of cards to play. ... We’re urging the court to allow same-sex couples in South Carolina to marry without any further delay ... The state doesn’t have any credible arguments for a court in South Carolina to entertain." 5
On 2014-OCT-22, Colleen Condon and Nichols Bleckley requested an injunction from District Court Judge Richard M. Gergel to prevent the state from enforcing the same-sex marriage ban. They asked Judge Gergel to:
"... enforce the clear and unequivocal law in the Fourth Circuit that government officials must allow same-sex couples the freedom to marry.
Attorney General Alan Wilson (R) had until 2014-NOV-03 to respond to the request. 6
The following information sources were used to prepare and update the above
essay. The hyperlinks are not necessarily still active today.
- Adam Polaski, "PHOTOS: The freedom to marry arrives in some South Carolina counties," Freedom to Marry, 2014-OCT-08, at: http://www.freedomtomarry.org/
- Sam Spence, "Same-sex couples can get married in Charleston County beginning today, says a local judge," Charleston City Paper, 2014-OCT-08, at: http://www.charlestoncitypaper.com/
- Traci Washington, "SC Attorney General Alan Wilson speaks about same-sex marriage," WTOC, Channel 11, 2014-OCT-15, at:
- "Condon v. Haley," Freedom to Marry, at: http://www.freedomtomarry.org/
- "Groups file federal lawsuit to force South Carolina to allow same-sex marriages." LGBT Nation, 2014-OCT-15, at: http://www.lgbtqnation.com/
- Bruce Smith, "SC: Couple can't bring same-sex federal lawsuit," The State, 2014-OCT-23, at: http://www.thestate.com/
Copyright © 2014 by Ontario Consultants on
Originally published: 2014-OCT-17-
Last updated 2014-NOV-20
Author: Bruce A Robinson