University of South Carolina political science professor Donald Songer said a U.S. Supreme Court decision on Monday likely clears the way for federal judges to declare South Carolina’s current gay marriage ban unconstitutional.
The U.S. Supreme Court on Monday revealed it would not take up the issue of same-sex marriage this year. The move effectively upholds court rulings that ended bans in up to 11 other states. While South Carolina was not one of those states, it is indirectly affected due to a July decision by the Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals (whose circuit includes South Carolina). In that case, a Fourth Circuit panel ruled Virginia’s similar ban unconstitutional.
The South Carolina Attorney General’s Office have been arguing against a lawsuit filed by a Lexington couple — Katie Bradacs and Tracie Goodwin — who claim South Carolina’s gay marriage ban is unconstitutional. The case had been on hold pending the appeals court’s decision in the Virginia case.
Because South Carolina is covered by the Fourth Circuit, Songer said any lower district judge will likely have to side with the higher court in the lawsuit.
“The precedent is now pretty clear,” he said. “And any federal judge in South Carolina is going to have to follow that precedent. So when it comes to court, it’s going to be declared unconstitutional.”
South Carolina residents overwhelmingly voted in 2006 to include an amendment to the state constitution that only recognizes unions between one man and one woman. Like Virginia’s constitution, South Carolina’s amendment also does not allow the state or its municipalities to recognize same-sex marriages performed in other states.
Attorney General Alan Wilson said his office would continue to uphold the state constitution until a court rules otherwise. “We’re currently reviewing the Supreme Court’s action,” he told South Carolina Radio Network. “We’re going to obviously read and study what happened before we make any public comments on the matter.”
But LGBT rights organizations called on South Carolina to drop its legal defense.
“Gay and lesbian couples in West Virginia, North Carolina, South Carolina, Kansas, Colorado and Wyoming should feel the full reach of justice from today’s Supreme Court action,” continued Human Rights Campaign’s president Chad Griffin said in a statement. “Attorneys general in all of these states should take immediate remedial action to bring their states in line with standing federal precedent.”