South Carolina couple optimistic after gay marriage ruling

Tracie Goodwin (l.) and Katie Bradacs (r.) filed suit against South Carolina’s voter-approved same-sex marriage ban in 2013. They are hopeful after Monday’s U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit ruling.
Tracie Goodwin (L) and Katie Bradacs (R) filed suit against South Carolina’s voter-approved same-sex marriage ban in 2013. They are hopeful after Monday’s U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit ruling.

The South Carolina couple suing the state over its voter-approved marriage ban is still awaiting a hearing in their case. But a major ruling Monday on same-sex marriage has Tracie Goodwin and Katie Bradacs feeling cautiously optimistic that their marriage may finally be recognized in this deeply conservative Southern state.

In a 2-1 decision, the 4th Circuit Court of Appeals upheld a lower court decision in finding Virginia’s ban on same-sex marriage unconstitutional. Because South Carolina falls under the 4th Circuit -- along with Maryland, West Virginia and North Carolina – the court’s ruling could overturn South Carolina's ban as well.

“I was ecstatic when I found out,” said Goodwin, 35, who first learned the news from Bradacs's cousin. 

In August 2013, Goodwin and Bradacs’ initiated their own challenge to South Carolina's gay marriage ban. The case, Bradacs v. Haley, was filed in the 4th Circuit but stayed pending a decision in Virginia. Carrie Warner, the attorney for the couple, is expected to file for a hearing, according to Goodwin.

Unlike neighboring North Carolina, which has announced it will stop defending its constitutional ban on same-sex marriage, South Carolina plans to continue upholding the law, which the state passed in 1996 and voters reaffirmed through an amendment in 2006.

RELATED: Meet the couple challenging South Carolina’s marriage ban

“Currently, South Carolina’s law remains intact, and, of course, our office will continue to defend it,” said J. Mark Powell, spokesman for the state’s Republican Attorney General Alan Wilson.

“The 4th Circuit ruling is fairly lengthy and our attorneys are reviewing its impact on South Carolina and the Bradacs case,” Wilson added. Nikki Haley, the state’s Republican governor, also indicated in a statement her administration will continue to uphold the ban.

Bradacs and Goodwin aren’t the only LGBT individuals challenging South Carolina's ban: In March, a woman in the upstate region filed at the county level to have her divorce recognized by the state.

Goodwin -- who works in IT for the state, and Bradacs, 31, a highway state trooper -- married in Washington D.C. in 2012, two years after same-sex nuptials became legal there. Together, they are raising three children.

Goodwin said she's puzzled by her state's continued effort not to recognize her marriage and that of other same-sex couples.

“I don’t see the purpose in wasting money fighting it when they’re already getting these rulings, and they know where it’s headed,” Goodwin said of the state's decision to uphold the ban.

South Carolina has made national news in recent months for a spate of seemingly knee-jerk responses to LGBT issues. In March, conservative lawmakers briefly debated cutting $70,000 from the budgets of two state universities for teaching gay-themed literature. And in October 2013, Mayor Linda Oliver of West Union, South Carolina became known for making disparaging comments about LGBT individuals on her Facebook page.

In April, Crystal Moore, a 20-year veteran of the Latta, SC, police force, was fired from her job for being a lesbian. She was later reinstated.

South Carolina is one of 29 states without workplace protection laws for LGBT residents, and the federal Employment Non Discrimination Act aimed at protecting LGBT workers is currently stalled in Congress.

Despite the state's problematic history around gay rights, South Carolina is gearing up to celebrate the 25th anniversary of its first gay pride parade.

“I am excited for what happened yesterday in Virginia,” says Jeff March, president of the South Carolina Pride Movement, an advocacy group in the state. “We now have greater hope in our fight for marriage equality here in South Carolina, which I believe now is closer than ever to becoming reality.”