South Carolina marches toward marriage equality

The sidewalks are filled with rainbow flags as revelers celebrate Gay Pride.
The sidewalks are filled with rainbow flags as revelers celebrate Gay Pride.

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.

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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.