June 28, 2013. Greenville News. Don't look for changes any time soon in South Carolina's marriage law, even with a Supreme Court decision that struck down a similar federal law, the chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee says.
But the executive director of S.C. Equality, which advocates civil rights for the gay community, told GreenvilleOnline.com that change will eventually come to South Carolina and other states that now forbid same-sex marriage.
"It's only really a question of when and not if the whole country comes to a place of supporting marriage equality," said Ryan Wilson, executive director of S.C. Equality.
Sen. Larry Martin of Pickens, however, chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, does not expect that change any time in the near future.
That's because South Carolina several years ago not only passed a law saying marriage is between a man and a woman but also amended the state's constitution, with voter approval, he said.
"It would take a constitutional amendment to repeal that," he said.
And that is unlikely since any amendment requires a two-thirds vote of lawmakers, as well as approval by voters, he said.
Martin said the law was enacted when legislators realized the Legislature had not addressed the issue of marriage between a male and a female.
"We had laws about you couldn't marry your cousin, you couldn't marry your mother, you couldn't marry your uncle," he said. "But we didn't have anything about the opposite sex. Nobody ever considered that."
The U.S. Supreme Court on Wednesday ruled 5-4 that the 17-year-old Defense of Marriage Act, a law that denied federal benefits to gays and lesbians legally married in a dozen states, was unconstitutional.
That ruling, and another that upheld a California ruling that legalized gay marriage there, has been hailed by supporters of marriage equality.
But the ruling does not directly impact any state laws. And even supporters of the decision say it may be a while before South Carolina's law is changed in any way.
"I wouldn't want to predict when South Carolina would revisit that law," said Victoria Middleton, executive director of the S.C. chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union. "But I think Americans overwhelmingly recognize that people should have the right to marry whom they love and that this will happen."
She added that a year ago, most would not have predicted that the Supreme Court would have struck down the Defense Of Marriage Act.
Both Middleton and Martin predict that the issue will eventually have to be revisited in South Carolina because of some couples who marry in states that recognize same-sex unions, then move to states that don't.
"I think that what we can anticipate is that if the state does not revisit the Defense of Marriage Act that was passed, it's going to create really problematic situations for people who were married elsewhere,” Middleton said, "whether it has to do with child-rearing and custody issues, divorce, probate in the event of someone's death and other kinds of complications. It will be a hardship for the individual but will also be a complication for the state."
Wilson said South Carolina's law could be challenged in the court for a host of reasons involving what happens to gay couples who move to the state. Or the law could be impacted if another state's laws are challenged.
He said, for instance, the fact that the state's DMV does not recognize name changes for married gay couples but the Social Security Administration does could provoke a challenge.
"If our state's laws and constitution are violating things like the (federal) Interstate Commerce Clause," Wilson said, that could result in a court ruling.
The Rev. Donna Stroud, a minister of the Metropolitan Community Church, said she believes same-sex couples living in South Carolina who were married in states where it’s legal now will to be able to file joint federal tax returns and have other federal rights the same as opposite-sex couples.
“GLBT people want to be married. I see it all the time,” she said. “They’re in these long-term commitment relationships. They have homes together, children together, vacation together. They want that privilege of being married.”
She said she has five holy union ceremonies on her schedule this summer and is continuing to work to change people’s minds about the issue.
“I think we’re seeing a movement,” she said. “And this just gave that movement a huge push.”
Susie Smith, pastor of Peace Congregational Church in Clemson, said she was pleased with the court’s rulings, but she added, “It doesn’t go as far as I would like it to, because we still don’t have the ability for couples to get married in South Carolina.
“But it allows those who have been married in other states to be recognized here.”
One same-sex couple at her church got married in Washington last week, she said.
She said she has seen attitudes about same-sex marriage change in recent years, particularly among young people. Her denomination, the United Church of Christ, supports marriage equality.
“I have seen the attitudes of (Clemson) students changing over the years,” she said. “It just does not seem to be the huge issue that it was, at least for college students in years past.”
— Staff writer Ron Barnett contributed.