Fight for marriage equality getting closer to South Carolina

Fight for marriage equality in South Carolina

LADSON, SC (WCSC) - The fight for marriage equality is getting closer to South Carolina. On Monday, clergy members filed a lawsuit challenging North Carolina's constitutional ban on gay marriage. In two weeks, May 13th, the 4th Circuit Court of Appeals, which covers the Carolinas, will hear arguments in a case involving Virginia's law which was ruled unconstitutional in February. A ruling could come later this summer, but it still gives no guarantees for the hundreds of same sex couples waiting for change in South Carolina.

Scott McDonald-Mostella says "South Carolina does everything last. We were first to secede from the Union, but we're the last state to do anything else. I just wish we could change that mentality."

Scott was legally married to Joseph Mostella in Connecticut in 2009. But that legal marriage means little, if anything in their home state of South Carolina. They are not afforded the same benefits as heterosexual couples who wed somewhere else and move here. In fact, they are considered something entirely different.

"We can register it here in the state as 'legal strangers' but nothing more than that will come of it," Scott says. "That's what we will be in South Carolina. I would love to know the definition of 'legal strangers.'"

Unlike other married couples, Joseph and Scott face challenges that straight couples likely take for granted. Joseph says Scott "went to the hospital and they would not let me see him until he was wide awake and completely clear to say 'please send him back' because I'm not legally his husband. I'm not family."

Legally married couples like Scott and Joseph are afforded some options now that they weren't a year ago. Last summer's decision by the U.S. Supreme Court to overturn part of the Defense of Marriage Act grants the couple federal rights and privileges. That including filing their federal taxes jointly for the first time. Scott says it was four pages in just a few minutes. But because they are not recognized in South Carolina, Scott said he had to file about 217 pages worth of documents to make sure he and his husband filed separately.

"We want to share our lives together, just like our straight counterparts do," Scott says.

They are certainly not alone. A lawsuit filed by highway patrol trooper Katie Bradacs and Tracie Goodwin is making its way though South Carolina court right now. It's the first case since the Supreme Court decision last summer. But Governor Nikki Haley has already promised to defend the state's amendment banning gay marriage.

But Joseph argues "I don't think the law should be allowed to restrict civil and human rights, and technically the constitution says it can't."

The 10th Circuit Court just heard appeals to court decisions striking down bans in Utah and Oklahoma. State amendments banning gay marriage have already been struck down in court in several other states like Texas, Michigan, and Virginia this year. But the most significant ruling could come from the 4th Circuit Court this summer. If it upholds the ruling making Virginia's law unconstitutional, it could set the stage for the rest of the 4th Circuit states to follow suit. That includes South Carolina, North Carolina, West Virginia, and Maryland.

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