A federal appeals court has cleared the way for South Carolina to become the 34th state — and the first in the deep South — to legalize marriage equality.
On Tuesday afternoon, the 4th Circuit Court of Appeals refused to stay a federal ruling that struck down South Carolina's same-sex marriage ban. U.S. District Judge Richard Mark Gergel, a President Obama appointee, wrote in an opinion issued last Wednesday that South Carolina’s constitutional amendment defining marriage as an institution between one man and one woman interfered with same-sex couples’ “fundamental right to marry,” and offered “no meaningful distinction” from Virginia’s same-sex marriage ban, which was declared unconstitutional at both the federal district and appellate levels earlier this year.
Though the 4th Circuit already ruled in favor of marriage equality in the Virginia suit -- a decision the Supreme Court made final when it declined to hear an appeal last month -- South Carolina's Republican Attorney General Alan Wilson asked the appeals court for a stay while his office continued to defend the state's ban in court. But unsurprisingly, the 4th Circuit refused. Wilson immediately said he would ask the Supreme Court for a stay. But given that the high court recently rejected a nearly-identical request from Kansas officials, clearing the way for the Sunflower State to become the 33rd in the nation where same-sex couples could legally wed, it's unlikely the justices would stand in the way of South Carolina's march to No. 34 -- at least not for any meaningful stretch of time.
Barring further court action, gay and lesbian couples can begin marrying in South Carolina Thursday at noon.