A new S.C. license plate that will be available Monday advocates equality for gay residents in a state that bans gay marriage and any other type of domestic union.
The executive director of South Carolina Equality said Friday the plate provides a way for people to show they support equality for lesbian, gay, transgender and bisexual residents. Christine Johnson said the need for equality extends beyond marriage to more basic issues, such as employment and housing.
South Carolina is one of just three states with the plate. Maryland was the first in 2008. Indiana started offering the plate this year.
“I hope when people see the plate, if they identify as LGBT, I hope they’ll feel supported, knowing someone else out there believes in equality. I hope people accept the opportunity to allow their car to reflect that support,” Johnson said. “The message is: There are allies and not everyone is homophobic.”
The plates will be available Monday at Department of Motor Vehicles offices statewide for an additional $25 over the cost of a standard license plate. The “on-demand plates” won’t be produced until ordered, Motor Vehicles spokeswoman Beth Parks said.
Half of that fee will go to South Carolina Equality, which celebrates its 10th anniversary this year, for outreach efforts such as educating groups on equal protection laws, Johnson said.
State law allows nonprofit groups to create specialty plates by either collecting 400 prepaid applications or making a $4,000 deposit.
A Motor Vehicles committee reviews each plate before it is produced, ensuring the design is recognizable from a distance, adheres to law enforcement standards and does not contain objectionable material, said the agency spokeswoman.
So far, no S.C. organization is opposing the new plate.
“A lot of their positions on the issues we would disagree with,” said Oran Smith, president and chief executive of the Columbia-based Palmetto Family Council, a Christian policy group. “But we would not infringe on First Amendment rights to free speech. We have no constitutional or legal reason to oppose it.”
Equality board member Dean Pierce paid the $4,000 deposit last fall to jumpstart the new plate’s application process. For him, the message is personal.
“It’s difficult to grow up gay in South Carolina. We’re looking for ways to make it easier for kids coming up behind us,” the 43-year-old Spartanburg County native said. “We’ve made advances. If you’d talked to someone in South Carolina 10 years ago, or even five years ago, the idea of a GLBT license plate would’ve been a ridiculous thought.”
In 2006, 78 percent of voters passed an amendment to South Carolina’s Constitution defining marriage as only between one man and one woman. The definition was already part of state law, but legislators argued the Constitution needed to be changed to bar recognition of same-sex unions from other states.
Pierce thinks even that ban eventually will change. “In the younger generations, there’s a willingness to accept the idea that people really are equal.”
The Equality plates are subtle, with “SC EQUALITY” across the top over a blue background. The nonprofit’s logo of two green rings encircling the state is featured on the left, next to “EQ” and the license number.
The plates will be added to the more than 130 specialty license plates that S.C. drivers can buy for colleges, sports, hobbies, veterans and charities – ranging from six different NASCAR plates to “Shag” and “Parrothead” plates. (All can be seen online at scdmvonline.com.) In all, the state has 370 tags, including those for legislators and members of state boards and commissions, Parks said.
One that reads “In God We Trust” is by far the state’s most popular specialty plate. It is on 865,230 vehicles statewide. Its secular counterpoint, which reads “In Reason We Trust,” is on 412 vehicles, Parks said. Both figures were as of Tuesday.