A federal judge has ruled that Gov. Nikki Haley’s name should be dismissed from a lawsuit against the state’s same-sex marriage ban, but that’s not the case for the South Carolina Attorney General.
U.S. District Judge Michelle Childs on Monday dismissed Gov. Nikki Haley as a defendant in a lawsuit challenging South Carolina’s ban on same-sex marriage. But Childs also ruled the case could continue against Attorney General Alan Wilson.
The lawsuit was filed by a lesbian couple Katharine Bradacs and Tracie Goodwin, who were married in Washington, D.C., but now live in South Carolina. The pair is suing, arguing the state constitution’s ban on same-sex marriage is unconstitutional under the U.S. version. The Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals (whose jurisdiction includes South Carolina) recently ruled a similar Virginia ban was unconstitutional.
Most legal observers say that decision by the higher court would likely influence Judge Childs’ own ruling. But Childs herself noted that she was only being asked whether South Carolina should recognize same-sex marriages from other states. Both sides do believe the issue of state bans will likely end up in the U.S. Supreme Court, especially now that an appeals court in the Midwest has ruled states do have the ability to regulate marriage.
Attorney General Wilson has argued that this case belongs in state courts, not federal. State voters overwhelmingly passed a 2006 referendum that amended South Carolina’s constitution to bar the state from legally recognizing same-sex marriages or civil unions.
In her order advancing the lawsuit, Judge Childs appeared sympathetic to Bradacs’ and Goodwin’s arguments that the state’s refusal to recognize their marriage could deprive them of benefits normally reserved for spouses in other marriages. Bradacs is a trooper with the South Carolina Highway Patrol.
Judge Childs noted in her ruling that, while Haley has expressed support for the state’s ban, the governor has not taken any official action that would prevent same-sex marriages from being recognized in South Carolina. However, the Attorney General’s Office (which operates independently from the governor) has successfully filed to halt the Charleston County probate court from granting marriage licenses. Therefore, Childs determined, Wilson could remain a defendant in the lawsuit.
The U.S. Census estimated that over 7,200 same-sex households exist in South Carolina, according to the Williams Institute at UCLA.