A lawsuit against South Carolina’s constitutional ban on marriage equality has been launched, saying the ban violates both the State and U.S. Constitutions.
Highway Patrol Trooper Katherine Bradacs, 31, and Tracie Goodwin, 35, filed a lawsuit with the federal U.S. District Court in Columbia to overturn South Carolina’s state level Defense of Marriage Law and the 2006 voter enacted amendment to the state Constitution that expressly bans same-sex marriages.
The couple were married in Washington, D.C., in Aprial of 2012. They contend that, per the U.S. Supreme Court’s ruling in Windsor v. United States that struck down Section 3 of the federal Defense of Marriage Act and specifically stated that moral disapproval against gay people could not be used as a legitimate reason for banning marriage equality, the South Carolina laws prohibiting them from being married in the state are now unambiguously unconstitutional.
The suit specifically challenges the 1996 enacted law, approved by the S.C. House of Representatives by an 82-0 vote and a Senate voice vote, that states, “A marriage between persons of the same sex is void ab initio (from the start) and against the public policy of this state.”
The suit also challenges the 2006 voter-enacted amendment to the state Constitution that codified the ban, with 78 percent to 22 percent of that year’s voting public in favor of enshrining marriage discrimination.
While noting the well-established federal and state constitutional guarantees of equal protection, the suit cites specific hardships the couple faces as a result of their marriage not being recognized by the state.
In particular, the suit notes that Goodwin is an “80 percent disabled” former member of the U.S. Air Force who receives benefits from the Veterans Administration while Bradacas is, as mentioned above, a highway trooper. Both face difficulties as a result of the state treating them as legal strangers, including that should Bradacas be injured or even killed during her work as a highway patrol officer, the state would not recognize Goodwin as her spouse and thus Goodwin would not receive the same care that would be readily offered had the couple been of opposite genders.
Primarily though, the lawsuit appears to be aiming at a strong statement against the animus it says went into passing the bans.
“This suit is really about equal treatment of all South Carolina citizens under the law,” John Nichols, one of the couple’s attorneys, is quoted as saying. “We should value people who want to live in a committed relationship, regardless of gender.”
The suit asks for an injunction against both the state ban and the constitutional amendment being enforced.
Named as defendants in their official capacities are South Carolina Governor Nikki Haley and state Attorney General Alan Wilson.
“Gov. Haley, like the majority of South Carolinians, supports traditional marriage as defined between one man and one woman, and in accordance with state law, will continue to uphold those values. The legislature has spoken on this issue, the people have spoken on this issue, and the governor remains resolute in her support of South Carolina’s Constitution and state’s rights and this lawsuit doesn’t change that,” said spokesman Doug Mayer in an email to The State on Tuesday.
Wilson’s office is currently reviewing the law.
The road to these bans being overturned will be a long one, but with recent IRS and HHS announcements as well as a favorable veteran benefits ruling and an ever-evolving public consensus in favor of marriage equality at their backs, the couple’s suit appears a strong challenge that could have wider significance as it will certainly be of interest to same-sex couples in neighboring states who suffer under similar or, in the case of North Carolina, even more stringent bans.
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