COLUMBIA -- A new South Carolina license plate available for sale next week advocates equality for gay residents in a state that not only bans gay marriage, but 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 far beyond marriage to more basic issues, such as employment and housing.
South Carolina is among just three states with the plate. Maryland was first in 2008. Indiana also offered 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. The "on-demand plates" won't be produced until ordered, DMV 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.
Equality board member Dean Pierce paid the $4,000 deposit last fall to jumpstart the 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. We owe it to them to make it easier for them," 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, a whopping 78 percent of voters passed an amendment to South Carolina's constitution defining marriage as between only 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 believes even that ban will eventually change.
"In the younger generations, there's a willingness to accept the idea that people really are equal," he said. "It's not something that's going to happen overnight. Things as subtle as a license plate should help."
The Equality plates themselves 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.
"We have a long way to go. Frankly, unless people make a conscious decision to be engaged and out themselves as LGBT and out themselves as allies, it will go even slower," Johnson said. "We can make so much more progress if people will be a little courageous and not let the other side dominate."
The plates will be added to the more than 130 specialty license plates South Carolina drivers can purchase for colleges, sports, hobbies, veterans and charities -- from six different NASCAR plates to "Shag" and "Parrothead" plates. In all, the state has 370 tags, which includes those for legislators and members of boards and commissions, Parks said.
One that reads "In God We Trust" is by far the state's most popular specialty plate, on 865,230 vehicles statewide. Its secular counterpoint, which reads "In Reason We Trust," is on 412 vehicles, Parks said. Both figures are as of Tuesday.
Another new plate offered Monday recognizes the South Carolina Troopers Association, she said.