A federal appeals court ruled Monday that Virginia’s same-sex marriage ban is unconstitutional, a decision which could have implications for South Carolina.
The three-judge panel on the Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals ruled Virginia’s ban on homosexual marriage and refusal to recognize such marriages from other states violated the 14th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution.
“We recognize that same-sex marriage makes some people deeply uncomfortable,” Judge Henry Floyd, a former South Carolina district judge, wrote in the court’s opinion. “However, inertia and apprehension are not legitimate bases for denying same-sex couples due process and equal protection of the laws.”
The ruling has implications in South Carolina, which is also located in the Fourth Circuit and is covered by the ruling’s precedent. Any legal challenge to South Carolina’s ban would almost certainly also go through the Fourth Circuit upon appeal. All parties in the case agree the final decision on state bans of gay marriage will likely be up to the U.S. Supreme Court.
The state Attorney General’s Office said in a statement that South Carolina’s own gay marriage ban will remain in place until the legal system decides otherwise.
“Currently, South Carolina’s law remains intact, and, of course, our office will continue to defend it,” the statement said. “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.”
Voters approved South Carolina’s state constitutional ban on same-sex marriage in 2006.
South Carolina’s marriage equality organization SC Equality praised the court’s ruling, but cautioned the decision would likely be stayed and would minimize the ruling’s impact in South Carolina for the moment.
“Today’s Fourth Circuit ruling is exciting for the thousands of legally married same-sex couples in South Carolina who are anxiously waiting for the day when South Carolina will recognize our marriages,” SC Equality executive director Ryan Wilson said in a statement. “Additionally, today’s ruling gives hope to thousands of lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender South Carolinians who want to be able to say ‘I do’ in their home state and not have to travel to some other part of the United States just to be able to marry the person they love.”
The 2-1 ruling by the appeals court will not take effect for 21 days and is expected to be stayed if the Supreme Court decides to hear an appeal.
The panel’s dissenting judge Paul Niemeyer questioned if same-sex couples were being deprived of their 14th Amendment rights, since he noted the Supreme Court has never ruled whether homosexual marriage is a constitutionally-protected right.
“(I)in holding that same-sex marriage is encompassed by the traditional right to marry, the majority avoids the necessary constitutional analysis, concluding simply and broadly that the fundamental ‘right to marry’ — by everyone and to anyone — may not be infringed,” he wrote. Niemeyer questioned why that same protections would not apply to incestuous or polygamist marriages.