The Democratic candidate for governor, state Sen. Vincent Sheheen, said Thursday South Carolina “should pause” its defense of the state’s gay marriage ban until the U.S. Supreme Court decides the issue.
After the 4th Circuit Court of Appeals declared Virginia’s gay marriage ban unconstitutional Monday, Gov. Nikki Haley, Sheheen’s Republican opponent in November, quickly said she would continue defending the state’s ban.
Haley’s position is shared by most major Republican candidates in South Carolina. However, most of the state’s Democratic candidates have said it is time to move on, predicting South Carolina’s gay marriage ban eventually will fall in court.
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Still, gay marriage can be a tough issue for a Democrat in South Carolina to weigh in on, as evidenced by the three days it took Sheheen to say what the state should do.
Campaign manager Andrew Whalen said Monday only that Sheheen would “monitor the court’s proceedings as the process continues to move forward.”
Sheheen said Thursday “our state should pause in the legal battles and await a decision by the court,” adding he personally does not support gay marriage.
Sheheen voted in favor of the gay marriage ban in the state Senate in 2005 and 2007. The Camden Democrat believes marriage is between one man and one woman, campaign manager Whalen has said previously.
“I have made my personal position regarding marriage clear,” Sheheen said in a statement Thursday, adding the U.S. Supreme Court ultimately will decide the issue.
“When that decision is given, we must come together and abide by the law of the land, and regardless of the outcome churches must always maintain their ability to determine what ceremonies they conduct and recognize. Every South Carolinian should be treated with dignity and respect regardless of sexual orientation, race, or gender, and I will continue working to end discrimination in the workplace and to ensure schools are safe from bullying.”
Citadel political scientist Scott Buchanan said gay marriage is an unpopular issue with the majority of South Carolinians, regardless of their political party.
“You can look at it from the standpoint of Vincent Sheheen’s very measured comments – the bottom line is that gay marriage is very, very unpopular in South Carolina,” Buchanan said.
“A majority of (S.C.) Democratic voters are African-American and that issue – the gay marriage issue – is not popular among the African-American community,” Buchanan said. “They’re very much against it.”
Nationally, the Democratic Party supports gay marriage. However, the S.C. party supports Sheheen despite his personal opposition to marriage equality, chairman Jamie Harrison said Thursday.
“We’re a party that doesn’t have litmus tests,” said Harrison. “We’re a big tent party.”
Harrison said Sheheen – a pro-life Catholic – has taken an honest stance, based on his background and religious beliefs.
“At the end of the day, we respect Vincent and where he is,” Harrison said.
Former S.C. Democratic Party chairman Dick Harpootlian predicted Sheheen’s personal beliefs won’t hurt his candidacy.
“If a Democrat takes a responsible position expressing their personal belief about it, it doesn’t hurt them,” Harpootlian said.