COLUMBIA - A S.C. Senate Democrat staged a nearly four-hour filibuster to prevent proposed budget cuts to the College of Charleston on Wednesday, as Republican senators sought to punish the school over its summer reading book choice.
Republican senators said incoming freshmen should not have read "Fun Home: A Family Tragicomic" because it is pornographic - the book has an illustrated depiction of two women having sex. Senators sought a $52,000 cut of the college's around $227 million budget - which equals the cost of the college's reading program.
In the end, senators delayed a decision until Thursday.
"Fun Home: A Family Tragicomic" is a critically acclaimed illustrated memoir. It deals with author Alison Bechdel's struggle with her homosexuality and her childhood with a closeted gay father.
Sen. Brad Hutto, D-Orangeburg, who staged the filibuster, called Republican senators homophobic in an interview after the session ended.
Hutto said that lasting effects of a Legislature seen as tampering with academic freedom warranted the filibuster. He said that the issue would bring unwanted national media attention, challenge recruitment at state universities and hurt the state's economy because companies would think twice about moving to a state where such cuts were imposed.
"This body is hung up on sex," Hutto said, particularly homosexuality. "This is one vote that is going to embarrass many. You won't be able to explain it to your grandchildren. They are going to say, 'I can't believe you did that.' ... They're going to say 'the old fogies in the Senate of South Carolina just aren't with it.'"
Hutto said that detractors wouldn't say it but that the debate was really about senators being uncomfortable with homosexuality. "There are people in this chamber who have not come to grips with their view of that," he said.
Republican senators disagreed. They said at issue was not the book but the fact that dollars appropriated by the General Assembly were used to buy the books, which send the wrong message in a state with conservative values.
The graphic sex scenes rankled senators. "Is it ever appropriate to use taxpayer dollars to fund pornography?" asked Sen. Larry Grooms, R-Charleston.
Hutto and Grooms expected a close vote on Thursday. An especially interesting scenario could play out in the case of a tie vote on the proposed cuts. Under Senate rules, the tie would be broken by the presiding officer, Lt. Gov. Glenn McConnell - the incoming president of the College of Charleston. McConnell could also choose to recuse himself, senators said.
McConnell couldn't immediately be reached for comment Wednesday night.
During the lengthy debate, senators compared "Fun Home" and its author to everything from slavery to serial murderer Charles Manson and Adolf Hitler.
The Senate also considered $17,000 in cuts to USC-Upstate for assigning a book with homosexual themes, although discussion was almost entirely around C of C's choice.
At one point, Sen. Mike Fair, R-Greenville, who proposed the amendment, tossed "Fun Home" to Hutto as he stood on the Senate floor during his filibuster. Sen. Tom Corbin, R-Greenville, challenged Hutto to show a particularly racy depiction of a sex act to the cameras recording the session to show that it wasn't meant for all audiences.
Hutto held it low when he opened to the page. "You were hesitant about it, you were reserved about it!" Corbin said.
The S.C. House has already included the cuts in its budget, meaning the cuts would continue to be an issue regardless of the Senate's decision. In an interview, Hutto predicted that he could secure the votes to kill the cuts. "They can spin it however they want," he said. "The age of this body is showing."
Grooms said afterward that he predicted a different outcome. "Academic freedom does not mean taxpayer-funded pornography," he said. Grooms predicted that votes may "change in our favor."
The Senate is scheduled to resume at 10 a.m. Thursday.
Reach Jeremy Borden at 708-5837.
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