In an order filed in federal court Monday, U.S. Judge Michelle Childs ruled that allegations by a Lexington couple that they have been harmed by South Carolina’s bans on recognizing same-sex marriages are serious enough that their lawsuit can go forward.
“The plaintiffs have asserted a legally cognizable injury, redressable by suing ...,” Childs wrote in her ruling, which found the lawsuit filed in August 2013 by S.C. Highway Patrol Trooper Katherine Bradacs and Tracie Goodwin easily qualifies on several constitutional grounds to be heard by her.
Childs repeatedly cited a July decision by the U.S. Court of Appeals that overturned a Virginia ban on gay marriage as potentially “controlling” in the Bradacs-Goodwin lawsuit, though she pointed out she has made not a final ruling in the case before her.
Childs also dismissed Gov. Nikki Haley as a defendant in the Bradacs-Goodwin lawsuit, finding that Haley had not taken any specific official action to stop South Carolina from recognizing the out-of-state marriage of the couple. Bradacs and Goodwin were legally married in 2012 in the District of Columbia.
But Childs ruled that Attorney General Alan Wilson must stay in as a defendant, in large part because Wilson recently sought and got an order from the S.C. Supreme Court that prevented a Charleston County probate court judge from issuing a marriage license to a gay couple in that county.
Wilson’s Oct. 8 action to get the high court to order the Charleston probate judge not to issue a marriage license “clearly demonstrates a willingness to specifically enforce” South Carolina’s ban on gay marriage and “action against him is not barred,” Childs ruled.
Childs also ruled that assertions by Bradacs and Goodwin’s of being deprived of rights “without due process of law” – a key provision in the 14th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution – also are serious enough for her to issue a final ruling on.
In their lawsuit, Bradacs and Goodwin allege that since South Carolina won’t recognize their same-sex marriage, they are deprived of the benefits instantly awarded to opposite-sex couples, such as tax exemptions and survivor’s benefits.
Childs also ruled that any decision she makes will only involve the matter of whether South Carolina must recognize same-sex marriages performed in other jurisdictions.
The Charleston County matter now before U.S. Judge Richard Gergel involves a separate but related issue – essentially, whether it is legal under the U.S. Constitution for South Carolina public officials to refuse to issue marriage licenses to gays to get married.
Also Monday, Wilson and his lawyers filed a motion before Gergel arguing that the judge should dismiss the Charleston County challenge to South Carolina’s ban on gay marriage because last week, the 6th Circuit Court of Appeals upheld such bans in four states.
“The recent tide of same-sex marriage cases has run squarely into the extremely well-reasoned opinion” by the 6th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, Wilson wrote in a motion filed in federal court in Charleston. The 6th Circuit’s decision stressed that marriage “is inherently a union of a man and a woman,” and that any decision to change that is a matter for the people and their legislatures – not for judges.
The Charleston case involves Charleston County Councilwoman Colleen Condon and Nichols Bleckley, who last month applied for a same-sex marriage license in Charleston County.
Condon and Bleckley have asked Gergel to rule in their favor without a trial. Wilson’s filing Monday responded to that request. Attorneys for the couple have until Nov. 20 to reply.
The Associated Press contributed.