COLUMBIA - A South Carolina civil rights advocacy group is calling on Attorney General Alan Wilson to drop his defense of the state's gay marriage ban, calling the prosecutor's stance a waste of taxpayer dollars given a federal court's decision on the matter.
The group, SC Equality, hopes to gain support by launching a petition on its website, SCEquality.org, Wednesday and at events throughout the state, said SC Equality Executive Director Ryan Wilson.
The 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, whose decisions govern South Carolina, ruled in a case Monday that Virginia's same-sex marriage ban is unconstitutional. Voters approved South Carolina's constitutional same-sex marriage ban by a nearly 80 percent majority in 2006.
The attorney general and other state officials have said they would continue, however, to fight to uphold South Carolina's gay marriage ban despite the ruling.
"South Carolina is going to be the last holdout, fighting tooth and nail and spending a million dollars of our money," Wilson said. "You'd have to prove there's something special about South Carolina's law that isn't denying equal protection (to win). The Virginia case pretty much presented all the arguments already."
The Palmetto Family Council, a Columbia-based advocacy group that supports the ban, said in a Facebook post that it hopes a federal judge would see differences in South Carolina's and Virginia's bans.
The attorney general's spokesman, Mark Powell, declined to comment beyond his Monday statement that said South Carolina officials would continue to uphold the gay marriage ban.
"People should not rush to act or react until that time, when a decision is made by the highest court in the land," he said. The Virginia case and other related rulings on gay marriage are expected to be decided ultimately by the U.S. Supreme Court.
Gov. Nikki Haley also vowed Tuesday to continue to fight to uphold the ban. "The governor is charged with defending and executing the laws and constitution of South Carolina, and she will continue to do just that at every turn," said Doug Mayer, the governor's spokesman, in a statement.
South Carolina couple Katherine Bradacs and Tracie Goodwin have sued the state, saying their marriage in Washington, D.C., should be recognized in South Carolina. Opponents of the ban expect attorneys in that case to ask a judge to decide it quickly given the federal court's decision.
Carrie Warner, a Columbia-based attorney for the couple, said she planned to ask South Carolina's district court in Columbia to issue a decision in light of the Fourth Circuit's ruling.
"It doesn't mean South Carolina's law is unconstitutional," she said of the circuit decision. "But it gives direct guidance on the issue for our judge. . Given this huge win, this gives us great momentum going into our hearing."
Warner said she plans to file a new argument in the case in the next few weeks.
Opponents of the gay marriage ban said Wilson should follow the lead of his North Carolina counterpart, Attorney General Roy Cooper, a Democrat who said after the Virginia ruling that he no longer would defend the state's ban on same sex marriage.
"Our attorneys have vigorously defended North Carolina marriage law, which is their job," Cooper said, according to media reports. "But today we know our law almost surely will be overturned as well. Simply put, it is time to stop making arguments we will lose and instead move forward, knowing that the ultimate resolution will likely come from the U.S. Supreme Court."
State and federal courts have struck down gay marriage bans 29 straight times in the last year, said Evan Wolfson, the founder and president of Freedom to Marry, a New York-based organization that advocates on the issue nationally. The streak began after the U.S. Supreme Court struck down the federal Defense of Marriage Act, which had barred same-sex couples from receiving federal benefits.
"The right answer is for states like South Carolina to stop fighting to defend discrimination," Wolfson said.
Reach Jeremy Borden at 708-5837.
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