For months we’ve known this day was coming, and we were aware of the shift it would bring in the way we talk about marriage equality. There was no longer a question of “if” we will see it, but “when.” But as it turns out, we just weren’t as ready as we thought.
Two years ago, many LGBT persons in this state would have bet the farm that it would be years before South Carolina came kicking and screaming into the world of marriage equality, maybe even the last holdout. The truth is, we will have marriage equality here, and it will happen soon.
Last week’s decision by the U.S. Supreme Court not to take up one of the seven cases before it challenging constitutional bans against same-sex marriage meant that the lower courts’ rulings would stand. And every one of those was in favor of extending the right to marry same-sex couples. Since one of those cases involved a challenge in the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 4th Circuit, that ruling had implications for the five states in the circuit, including South Carolina. And that was when the fun began.
It has been a roller coaster for everyone on this road. I was amazed when Probate Court Judge Irving Condon said that in light of the Supreme Court’s move on Monday, he would hand out applications for marriage licenses to same-gender couples. I was so proud of the couples who stepped forward. After all, there was a chance they would end up on the news, and in this state, people can still be fired from their jobs or harassed for being gay, lesbian, bisexual, or transgender. And that happens with a disturbing regularity. But about two dozen couples, who had been waiting for this for years, dropped everything and stood in line at the Charleston County Courthouse.
The sheer marvel of it all was delayed by the efforts of the state’s attorney general and the S.C. Supreme Court, which try to prove over and over again that the federal government or federal court system has no place in the lives of ordinary South Carolinians. These are the people who routinely say that marriage is a matter that should be “defined by the states.” I challenge any straight person in South Carolina to accept a reality that includes wondering if the state they are driving through or visiting or just had an accident in recognizes that the person an LGBT individual is spending their lives with is also their legal next of kin and all that carries with it. Or if we move to another state because of available jobs, will that state allow us to share medical benefits or insure one another and will our children be treated differently because we are “not married” there?
As long as states refuse to recognize the right of same-gender couples to marry, they perpetuate the ongoing split of two Americas, one with rights and one without.
That is our reality in South Carolina, the day-to-day experience of the thousands of same-gender couples in this state, many of whom are raising families. We are one of the states where members of the LGBT community have concerns about when they travel. At least on the marriage issue, that won’t be for long. A ruling on the South Carolina ban on same-sex marriage will be handed down soon.
We still have other challenges to a lived equality here in South Carolina, although some still insist, “That just doesn’t happen here.” In fact, it does. Job discrimination happens across the state. With a few exceptions, housing discrimination happens across the state, along with discrimination in public accommodations (hotels, restaurants, etc.) all because we are gay or lesbian or bisexual or transgender. The courts question our fitness as parents simply because of the persons we love. The list goes on.
But for this week, we can applaud the fact that one major barrier to equality is coming down in South Carolina and in several other states. We may have to wait a few days or a few weeks for marriage licenses to be issued to same-gender couples in the state. That is a huge difference from waiting until hell freezes over.
Warren Redman-Gress is the executive director of the Alliance for Full Acceptance.