The U.S. Supreme Court says it will not issue an emergency stay in the ongoing lawsuit over same-sex marriage licenses in South Carolina.
The court on Thursday morning said it would not extend the stay that was preventing couples from obtaining licenses in South Carolina. The order was released only two hours before the stay issued last week by a federal judge would expire. The ruling means same-sex marriage applications will now be accepted in all counties beginning at noon.
Attorney General Alan Wilson has no further means of delaying the process, but said he hoped the Supreme Court would eventually take up the case. “(T)he U.S. Supreme Court has not yet resolved conflicting rulings by federal appeals courts on the issue of same sex marriage,” he said in a statement released by his office. “When the U.S. Supreme Court decides to consider the case, our office will be supporting the position of the Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals, which is more consistent with South Carolina State law, which upholds the unique status of traditional marriage.”
The Supreme Court decided 7-2 against hearing South Carolina’s arguments, with Justices Antonin Scalia and Clarence Thomas in the minority.
When U.S. District Judge Richard Gergel ruled last week that South Carolina’s ban on same-sex marriage was unconstitutional, he gave the state a week to appeal. That meant county probate judges would not issue licenses until higher courts acted. That deadline expired at noon Thursday with the state exhausting all of its avenues to extend it. Wilson does have the option to appeal Gergel’s ruling itself within 30 days (the previous motions only dealt with whether counties could grant licenses while he did so).
Two counties began issuing licenses on Wednesday. Probate judges in Charleston and Richland counties moved ahead after the South Carolina Supreme Court lifted its own stay Thursday afternoon. A couple in Charleston — Kristin Anderson and Kayla Bennett — got their license Wednesday (they had applied in October, before the stay was implemented) and had a ceremony on the courthouse steps. The two are believed to be the first same-sex couple officially married in South Carolina. Other couples who have not applied in the past will have to wait 24 hours before getting their license, which is traditional for any marriage in South Carolina.
Some couples paid the fee to apply for a license in Columbia, but were told to come back once the court acted. One of those pairs was Ed Madden and Bert Easter, who said they have been in a relationship for 20 years.
“I think we both always felt that South Carolina would be one of the last states,” Madden told South Carolina Radio Network. “So we’re both very surprised that we’re here now.”
Not every county was granting the licenses on Thursday. Lexington County Probate Judge Daniel Eckstrom said his office would not grant them, but then relented after about two hours. “The State of South Carolina is still defending our State Constitution in the U.S. Supreme Court,” the Probate Court stated in a release. “I respect the rule of law, and until this matter is conclusively resolved – or unless otherwise directed – the Office of the Lexington County Probate Court continues to abide by our State Constitution and statutes.” However, Erickson later said the Supreme Court’s ruling did amount to a change in state law.
The Lee County Probate Court was also unclear about whether it would grant licenses. An employee who answered the phone Thursday said they “will be following the law. Whatever that says, that’s what we’re going to be doing.” When asked if that meant following the judge’s order, the employee hung up.