A federal judge struck down a South Carolina law Wednesday which prohibits the discussion of same-sex relationships in public school sexual education classes after a group of LGBTQ advocates filed suit against the state, saying the law unconstitutionally affected non-heterosexual students.
Before the Wednesday court order struck down the 1988 law, the South Carolina Health Education Act prohibited discussion of "alternate sexual lifestyles from heterosexual relationships including, but not limited to, homosexual relationships except in the context of instruction concerning sexually transmitted diseases."
LGBTQ community advocates joined to file a lawsuit against state Superintendent Molly Spearman in February, with the Gender and Sexuality Alliance, a student-led LGBTQ advocacy group, as plaintiff along with the Campaign for Southern Equality and South Carolina Equality.
The lawsuit alleged that a portion of the state law violated the Equal Protection Clause of the 14th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution by discriminating against LGBTQ students without comparable restrictions on heterosexual-centered health education.
The consent decree signed by District Court Judge David Norton was the result of pre-trial negotiations between the two parties who reached a resolution to avoid litigation and "efficiently and expeditiously promote the parties' shared goal of ensuring that all public school students in South Carolina are afforded the rights guaranteed by the Equal Protection Clause."
According to the order, the parties agreed the state law in question "is a classification based on sexual orientation that is not rationally related to any legitimate state interest" and would likely be ruled unconstitutional in court. An opinion by the South Carolina Attorney General in February also said the law would likely not hold up.
"I am very excited that this discriminatory law can no longer be enforced in South Carolina, and I hope we can continue to work toward a more accepting and equal state-wide community," said Eli Bundy, president of GSA and a 15-year-old Charleston County student, in a press release. "I know how frustrating it can feel to be told by a teacher that they can’t talk about who you are. I’m so grateful that no other South Carolina student will have to go through school feeling like they have been erased."
Under the court’s decision, instruction under the Comprehensive Health Education Act must now be designed and implemented without regard to the stricken provision. This includes, at a minimum, all future policies by Spearman, her employees, and the South Carolina Department of Education.
"As one of the plaintiffs in this lawsuit, SC Equality is thrilled that Judge Norton agrees with us by ruling this statute is unconstitutional and strikes it down today," said Executive Director of SC Equality Jeff Ayers. "LGBTQ students can now feel as if they are equal in schools all across South Carolina and not be treated as inferior any longer. It's a great day in South Carolina and shows the rest of the country that we are not afraid to stand up against discrimination and challenge issues in the courts when necessary."
The superintendent now has 60 days to issue a memorandum to all members of the State Board of Education and the superintendents of every public school district in the state.
According to the court’s consent decree, the memorandum will, at a minimum, include a copy of the consent decree and include all of the previous information regarding the invalidity of the discriminatory provision.