Judge gives Gov. Haley, AG Wilson extra time to answer S.C. gay marriage lawsuit

jmonk@thestate.comSeptember 24, 2013 


— A federal judge has given S.C. Gov. Nikki Haley and State Attorney General Alan Wilson an extra seven weeks to file an answer to a lawsuit challenging the state’s gay marriage bans.

The lawsuit, filed in the Columbia division of federal court late August, was brought by an S.C. Highway Patrol trooper and the woman she legally married in Washington, D.C., last year.

“The defendants request this additional time to respond due to the significant issues in this case,” said a motion submitted by Wilson on behalf of himself and Haley.

Judge Joe Anderson granted the extension, noting that Columbia lawyers John Nichols and Carrie Warner – who represent the two women who brought the lawsuit – did not object.

Haley and Wilson must now file their answers by Nov. 15, Anderson’s motion said. Originally, they had until this Friday.

The lawsuit filed Aug. 28 challenges the state’s Defense of Marriage Law and a 2006 amendment to the state Constitution that expressly banned same-sex marriage.

The suit was brought by trooper Katherine Bradacs and her partner, Tracie Goodwin, a former school resource officer with the Richland County sheriff’s department. Bradacs has been with the Highway Patrol since 2011; Goodwin left the sheriff’s department in good standing, according to Sheriff Leon Lott.

The couple has three children.

The state Department of Public Safety, queried by The State about Bradacs’s effort to overturn the state’s marriage laws, issued the following statement:

“This lawsuit is a personal matter to be resolved through the judicial process and has no bearing on Ms. Bradacs’ position. Ms. Bradacs will continue to be treated fairly and impartially as with all employees of the SC Department of Public Safety.”

The lawsuit takes direct aim at a state law passed in the 1990s as well as a constitutional amendment passed in 2006 by a 78 percent majority. It also challenges the state’s social, religious and political cultures.

However, in recent years, increasing numbers of Americans and South Carolinians have become more accepting to the idea of granting equal rights to gay and lesbians in various spheres, including marriage.

Gays can now serve openly in the U.S. military. The federal government recently announced that all same-sex couples who are legally married will be recognized as such for federal taxes. In June, a U.S. Supreme Court decision struck down the federal 1996 Defense of Marriage Act.

That Supreme Court decision was cited in Bradacs’ and Goodwin’s lawsuit as a major reason they are challenging South Carolina’s ban on gay marriage.

In their lawsuit, Bradacs asserts she and Goodwin are denied a number of state benefits available to other legally-married South Carolinians in general, and to other legally-married state troopers, in particular.

Around the country, seame-sex marriage is legal in 13 states and the District of Columbia. It is banned in 35 states, and two states have no policies, according to news reports.

Reach Monk at (803) 771-8344.

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