The state’s highest court on Thursday halted the issuance of marriage licenses to same-sex couples until a federal court case in South Carolina challenging the constitutionality of the ban is settled.
Even with that unanimous decision by the S.C. Supreme Court, the contentious issue left two local probate judges, who issue licenses, with opposing responses.
Richland County probate judge Amy McCulloch said her office will continue to accept applications for licenses, while Lexington County probate judge Dan Eckstrom said his office will not accept them.
South Carolina law requires a 24-hour waiting period between a couple’s submission of a completed application and a probate office’s decision to award a license for any marriage.
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“Respondent and all other probate judges are hereby directed not to issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples pending a decision by the federal District Court in Bradacs,” the justices wrote in a short order released about noon.
Highway Patrol trooper Katherine Bradacs and her partner, U.S. Air Force retiree Tracie Goodwin, were legally married in Washington, D.C. They filed the federal suit in August seeking to have their union formally recognized in South Carolina. A ruling is pending before U.S. District Judge Michelle Childs.
The Lexington County women are challenging South Carolina’s Defense of Marriage Law and a 2006 constitutional amendment that banned same-sex marriages.
The high court’s order on Thursday capped several days of rapid-fire legal steps that gave gay and lesbian couples here hope they might marry legally.
In an apparent effort to blunt more courtroom maneuvers, the justices also banned any lower court in the state from taking up the issue until Childs rules. That decision is expected within weeks.
The lawsuit in Child’s court had been on hold while parties to the case awaited a U.S. Supreme Court decision on a case that overturned a similar Virginia law. The nation’s highest court Monday let stand rulings in 11 states, including Virginia, that have approved the landmark issue of same-sex marriages. That eventually would bring to 30 the number of states permitting gays and lesbians to marry.
South Carolina is in the 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, which handled the Virginia case.
Childs now has asked both sides to provide a schedule for submitting legal arguments.
Even the state Supreme Court was divided on how long to stop licenses from being issued to gay couples. A majority – Chief Justice Jean Toal and associate justices Donald Beatty and Kaye Hearn – say the issuance should be settled as soon as Childs rules. The remaining two justices, Costa Pleicones and John Kittredge, say the state should wait until the U.S. Supreme Court rules on the Bradacs case.
The South Carolina justices acted at the request of S.C. Attorney General Alan Wilson, who on Wednesday asked the court to block issuance of marriage licenses. He argued that despite rulings in other states, the Palmetto State’s ban should stand.
“Today’s action by the state Supreme Court upholds the rule of law in South Carolina,” Wilson said in a statement. “Based on the court’s decision, I will continue to fulfill my oath as chief legal officer to defend the laws and the constitution of South Carolina until this issue is resolved by the federal courts.”
Wilson’s request was opposed by Charleston County Probate Judge Irvin Condon, who had provided marriage license applications after the U.S. Supreme Court let the cases from Virginia and other states stand.
Richland’s probate judge, McCulloch, also had begun accepting applications.
Same-sex couples who on Wednesday submitted license applications in several counties had their marriage plans stopped – at least temporarily – by the justices.
“It’s going to happen,” said Charleston County Councilwoman Colleen Condon, who is among the first gay couples to have applied for a license before Judge Condon.
The judge is a distant relative of the councilwoman, who traveled to the Capital City on Thursday for the court’s decision. “I wish the state would get out of the way as soon as possible,” she said.