On Mon. March 25, more than 500 people in Charleston joined together in support of same-sex marriage. The rally came on the eve of the U.S. Supreme Court hearings regarding the Defense of Marriage Act and Proposition 8. I should have been there.
Although this is a cause near and dear to my heart, I am a mother and a wife before I am an activist, and my child had gymnastics while my husband was at home sick. So I didn’t stand with my gay brothers and sisters on the steps of the U.S. Custom House, as much as I wanted to.
The next day, the internet lit up with images of a pink-and-red Human Rights Campaign logo — normally a yellow equals sign set against a blue background. On Twitter and Facebook, scores of users changed their avatars to the revamped HRC logo in a show of online solidarity. I changed my own. While it’s not the same as going to a rally, I am proud to be pink and red.
But then, as I sat at my desk later that night, I began to wonder if anything will actually change for same-sex couples here in South Carolina, regardless of whatever ruling the Supreme Court makes?
As it stands today, based on Amendment 1 to the S.C. Constitution, which passed with 78 percent of the vote in 2006, neither same-sex marriages nor civil unions are recognized by the state. So not only did our state define marriage as between a man and woman, it went a step further and refused to legally recognize any form of civil union between a same-sex couple. Think about it: Our state constitution, which is supposed to afford the same rights to all, actively works to deny rights to people based on their choice of marital partners.
As I write this column, the faces of two friends flash before my eyes. They are two women, and a few years ago they traveled to another state in order to marry each other. They live normal lives and love each other, and here in Charleston, where they choose to spend their lives together, their marriage isn’t legally recognized. They can’t even receive the financial and legal protections of a civil union, because in South Carolina, our gay couples aren’t even given the separate-but-equal benefits of the humiliating Jim Crow laws of our past. They’re not separate. They’re not equal. They just don’t exist as a single entity in any legal way.
If the Supreme Court overturns DOMA and Prop 8, South Carolina’s Amendment 1 would become illegal. The same civil rights of marriage afforded to my husband and myself would, in theory, be afforded to our friends. Financial rights, end of life rights, the rights of joint parenthood — this is what people mean when they mean equal rights for same-sex marriage. Of course, they also want the basic dignity of being allowed to marry the person they love and have that marriage recognized by our government.
It’s possible that the U.S. Supreme Court will strike down DOMA on the basis of states’ rights, and thus duck a decision on the state-specific Prop 8. Regardless of what they decide, the immediate affects will be all but invisible here in Charleston. Even in the best-case scenario for local gay couples, it’s likely South Carolina politicians will continue to rally support behind Amendment 1, dragging it through more courtroom dramas and endless news cycles before any actual changes are made.
The good news, then, is no matter what the Supreme Court decides, all you need to do is look around to see which way the wind blows. Seriously, go to Facebook. Tell me how much pink and red you see. Among young people, support for marriage equality is a staggering 80 percent, and one day, these young people will be the ones making new laws and overturning old ones. The tides are turning, and I’m excited and hopeful about what the future has in store for all of us.