On their 20th anniversary this coming March, Bert Easter and Ed Madden would like to celebrate as a legally married couple.
They celebrated their union with a non-legal ceremony in Charleston on March 19, 1995, complete with a shower of bird seed, a downtown carriage ride and an Elvis impersonator.
And they were one of the first gay couples to step forward and put a face to the fight for marriage equality in South Carolina a decade ago when they applied for a Richland County marriage license to make a statement. They were also the first couple to apply for a marriage license in Richland County in October, after the U.S. Supreme Court opened doors by declaring it would not hear any appeals of same-sex marriage cases that ruled in favor of gay couples.
Now, Easter and Madden are hopeful that come next Thursday or Friday, they can walk out of the county courthouse with an approved marriage license in hand.
Never miss a local story.
“It’s another step on a long road that we’ve been on,” Easter said.
The couple both work at the University of South Carolina, Madden as director of the Women’s and Gender Studies department and as an English professor who also is a published poet. Easter is a technology production consultant with USC’s National Resource Center.
Both have held leadership positions in South Carolina advocacy organizations for those who are lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender.
Like many people in the LGBT community, they celebrated U.S. District Court Judge Richard Gergel’s decision this week to throw out the state’s constitutional ban on same-sex marriage. His order is to go into effect one minute after noon on Thursday, barring any further holds or appeals to a higher court.
Even though Attorney General Alan Wilson is making a push to delay the state’s recognition of gay marriage – he has asked the 4th Circuit Court of Appeals to extend the stay on Gergel’s order and might appeal the decision to the U.S. Supreme Court – Gergel’s decision represents victory and hope for the South Carolina LGBT community, said Jeff Ayers, board chairman for the S.C. Equality Coalition.
“They see a glimmer of hope in this ruling that if we can achieve marriage equality, the other things will fall into place,” Ayers said. “It’s sad that LGBT South Carolinians feel like they’re second-class citizens.
“They don’t have the rights that other straight citizens in South Carolina have, and we don’t think that battle is going to be over.”
The stop-and-go nature of South Carolina’s movement toward marriage equality may cause some couples to hesitate to step forward and apply for marriage licenses right now, Easter said. Some won’t want to risk being told “no,” he said, and might wait for others to successfully walk through the door before them.
Ayers said S.C Equality anticipates and is prepared to see through any continued legal challenges to marriage equality in the state.
If Wilson continues to fight, Easter said, it won’t stop him from celebrating the direction South Carolina is headed.
“He will certainly join others who in the ’60s and other progressive movements went down in history as standing on the wrong side of history,” Easter said. “And if that’s his plan, then he will carry forward with that. I, however, want to celebrate all the support that we’ve seen in the greater community.
“These couples have lives and plans and are very much excited about getting a green light to go forward with their lives.”