Attorneys for Gov. Nikki Haley and Attorney General Alan Wilson said in court papers filed this week that the state of South Carolina doesn't have to recognize gay marriages performed legally in other states and the nation's capital.
That argument, filed in federal court Thursday, comes in response to a lawsuit earlier this year by a gay couple legally married in Washington, D.C., and now living in South Carolina.
Highway Patrol Trooper Katherine Bradacs and Tracie Goodwin – married last year – are suing Haley and Wilson to have the state's ban on gay marriage overturned. They argue a recent U.S. Supreme Court decision shows that states can't outlaw same-sex marriages because they do not approve of them.
In June, the nation's high court issued two rulings dealing with same-sex marriages. One ruling cleared the way for ending a ban on same-sex marriages in California; the other struck down a 1996 law passed by Congress that banned federal recognition of same-sex marriages.
Fifteen states and the District of Columbia currently allow same-sex marriage, and a bill is awaiting the governor's signature in Illinois. South Carolina passed a law banning same-sex marriage in 1996, and voters passing a similar constitutional amendment in 2006 with 78 percent of the vote.
The court made no determination over how states must deal with gay marriages in other states. In Missouri, which has a constitutional provision defining valid marriages as between a man and a woman, Democratic Gov. Jay Nixon said this week he would issue an executive order directing state tax officials to accept returns jointly filed by same-sex couples who have legally married in other states.
Arguing that South Carolina isn't required to recognize the marriage, state lawyers representing Haley and Wilson, both Republicans, also sought to refute the contention the couple's children would be hurt by the state's stance. They said forcing South Carolina to change course is unconstitutional.
“They deny that the lack of recognition is intended to or does, in fact, communicate that their relationship is `unworthy,’ ” the state's lawyers wrote. “To require the state of South Carolina to recognize same-sex marriages from other jurisdictions, or to permit such marriages itself, would be contrary to the 10th Amendment and the sovereign interests of the state,” Haley and Wilson's attorneys wrote.
No hearings have been scheduled in the lawsuit, which also asks a judge to temporarily suspend the gay marriage ban while the issue is in court.