Same-sex marriage in South Carolina

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Same-sex marriage has been legally recognized in 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, two judges 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.

Legal restrictions[edit]


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.[1]


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.[2][3][4]


Bradacs v. Haley[edit]

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 are 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.[5][6]

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.[7]

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,[8] leaving Bostic as binding precedent in federal courts in South Carolina.[9] 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.[10] Judge Childs then lifted the stay on proceedings in Bradacs.[11]

The plaintiffs filed a motion for summary judgment on October 20.[12] 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.[13] 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.[14]

Condon v. Haley[edit]

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.[15] 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.[16]

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.[17] On November 12, U.S. District Judge Richard Gergel ruled for the plaintiffs and stayed his decision until noon on November 20.[18] The Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals denied the state's request for a stay pending appeal or a temporary stay on November 18.[19] Attorney General Wilson asked Chief Justice John Roberts, as Circuit Justice for the Fourth Circuit, for an emergency stay pending appeal later that day.[20] 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.[21] Justice Roberts referred the request to the full court, which denied it with Justices Scalia and Thomas dissenting on November 20.[22]

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.[23] 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.[24]

Licensing and recognition[edit]

Some probate courts began processing marriage license applications for same-sex couples on November 19, 2014 and more of them on November 20.[25] 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.[26]

After Obergefell v. Hodges[edit]

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.[27] The bill died without any legislative action.[28] A similar bill was introduced and subsequently defeated in Tennessee.

Marriage statistics[edit]

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.[29]

Public opinion[edit]

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.[30]

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.[31]

An October 2013 Winthrop University poll found that, among adults, 38.5% thought that same-sex marriage should be legal, while 52.2% thought it should be illegal and 6.1% were not sure.[32]

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.[33]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ EXCLUSIVE: Gay couple files federal lawsuit attacking SC’s Defense of Marriage Law
  2. ^ Adcox, Seanna (March 22, 2007). "South Carolina officially bans gay marriage". Retrieved December 2, 2013. 
  3. ^ "Journal of the Senate of the state of South Carolina" (PDF). Archived from the original (PDF) on March 20, 2009. Retrieved December 2, 2013. 
  4. ^ Haley, Sheheen back ban on gay marriage despite couple's court challenge
  5. ^ "Gay couple files federal lawsuit attacking SC's Defense of Marriage Law". The State. September 1, 2013. Retrieved January 17, 2014. 
  6. ^ Monk, John (September 3, 2013). "Same-sex marriage suit: Haley will defend SC Marriage Law". The State. Retrieved January 17, 2014. 
  7. ^ "Docket, Bradacs v. Haley, No. 3:2013-cv-02351". U.S. District Court for the District of South Carolina, via Retrieved 30 April 2014. 
  8. ^ Order List 10/06/14,, pg 39
  9. ^ Denniston, Lyle (October 6, 2014). "Many more same-sex marriages soon, but where?". SCOTUSblog. Retrieved October 7, 2014. 
  10. ^ "Gay marriage fight not over in South Carolina". ABC News Charleston. October 6, 2014. Retrieved October 7, 2014. 
  11. ^ Leblanc, Cliff (October 9, 2014). "SC’s top court orders gay marriage put on hold". The State. Retrieved October 11, 2014. 
  12. ^ "Plaintiffs' Motion for Summary Judgment". U.S. District Court for South Carolina. Retrieved October 20, 2014. 
  13. ^ "Order and Opinion". Retrieved November 18, 2014. 
  14. ^ "Charleston County issues first marriage license for same-sex couples". WCSC. November 19, 2014. Retrieved November 19, 2014. 
  15. ^ "Gay Marriage Starts in South Carolina". Retrieved October 8, 2014. 
  16. ^ "SC Supreme Court halts same-sex marriage licenses". Retrieved October 8, 2014. 
  17. ^ "Complaint, October 15, 2014". Retrieved October 15, 2014. 
  18. ^ Johnson, Chris (November 12, 2014). "Judge strikes down South Carolina ban on same-sex marriage". Washington Blade. Retrieved November 12, 2014. 
  19. ^ "Stay Denied". Retrieved November 18, 2014. 
  20. ^ "South Carolina Stay Application". Retrieved November 18, 2014. 
  21. ^ Denniston, Lyle (November 18, 2014). "Emergency Application to Stay". SCOTUSblog. Retrieved November 18, 2014. 
  22. ^ "Order in Pending Case" (PDF). Supreme Court of the United States. November 20, 2014. Retrieved November 20, 2014. 
  23. ^ "Attorney General's Motion to stay proceedings". U.S. Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals. Retrieved December 1, 2014. 
  24. ^ "Berger v. Fisher-Borne Petition for writ of certiorari before judgment". Supreme Court of the United States. Retrieved January 14, 2015. 
  25. ^ Ellis, Sarah (November 20, 2014). "US Supreme Court says 'no' to SC's request for more time on same-sex marriage". The State. Retrieved November 20, 2014. 
  26. ^ Santaella, Tony (November 20, 2014). "Lexington County to Issue Gay Marriage Licenses". WLTX. Retrieved November 20, 2014. 
  27. ^ Anti-Gay Bills in South Carolina, Tennessee Equate Same-Sex Marriage to Forced Sterilization Towleroad, January 9, 2016
  28. ^ SC H4513 | 2015-2016 | 121st General Assembly
  29. ^ Jackson, Gavin (June 24, 2016). "Same-sex marriage ‘routine’ in South Carolina a year after U.S. Supreme Court decision". The Post and Courier. 
  30. ^ Public Policy Polling: "SC against gay marriage, Tea Party; Dems want Hillary in '16," September 9, 2011, accessed September 9, 2011
  31. ^ "Haley Vulnerable in South Carolina" (PDF). Public Policy Polling. Retrieved December 11, 2012. 
  32. ^ "EXCLUSIVE: Majority oppose, but more in SC tolerant of same-sex marriage". The State. November 3, 2013. Retrieved December 2, 2013. 
  33. ^ "Winthrop Poll: S.C. Residents Give Opinions on Leaders, Gas Tax and Other Issues". Winthrop University. March 4, 2015. Retrieved March 7, 2015. 

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