Gay couple files federal lawsuit attacking SC’s marriage law

jmonk@thestate.comSeptember 2, 2013 

— Two Lexington County women who were legally married in Washington, D.C., have filed a federal lawsuit in Columbia challenging South Carolina’s Defense of Marriage Law and a 2007 amendment to the state Constitution that expressly banned same-sex marriages.

The lawsuit, brought by Katherine Bradacs and Tracie Goodwin, was filed in U.S. District Court in Columbia late last week.

Judge Joe Anderson, a veteran judge who has presided in numerous high-profile civil and criminal cases over the years, has been named to hear arguments in the case, which will likely be heard without a jury.

Defendants in the case are Gov. Nikki Haley and State Attorney General Alan Wilson, both in their official capacities.

The lawsuit not only takes aim at a state law and a constitutional amendment passed by majorities, but it squarely confronts a long-standing and deep-rooted social, religious and political culture of a majority of South Carolinians who opposes gay rights, even as the idea of such rights gains increasing legitimacy elsewhere.

The lawsuit also asks Anderson to grant an injunction prohibiting the South Carolina from enforcing either the Defense of Marriage Act and the section of the state Constitution that bans same-sex marriages. The state Constitution also prohibits same-sex marriages that are legal in other states from being recognized in South Carolina.

No hearing has been set.

‘Treated as legal strangers’

“Although plaintiffs Bradacs and Goodwin were legally married in the District of Columbia on April 6, 2012…they are treated as legal strangers in their home state of South Carolina,” their lawsuit says.

In the lawsuit, Bradacs is described as “a public employee.” Goodwin is described as “80 percent disabled from the U.S. Air Force and receives benefits from the Veterans Administration.” The suit says they are “in a long-term committed relationship.”

The lawsuit says the U.S. Constitution guarantees Bradacs and Goodwin the right to have the same rights as married heterosexual couples and that South Carolina’s exclusion of same-sex couples “adversely impacts the plaintiffs and same-sex couples across South Carolina by excluding them from the many legal protections available to spouses.”

The suit also says that “lesbian and gay police officers, firefighters and other first responders are denied the peace of mind of knowing that if they make the ultimate sacrifice, their partner will be taken care of through the financial support available to help those who lost their spouses in service to the community.”

The suit also says that Bradacs and Goodwin’s children “are stigmatized and relegated to a second class status…”

It also says, “Same-sex couples such as the plaintiff couple are identical to opposite-sex couples in all of the characteristics relevant to marriage.”

The suit was filed in federal court because it raises federal questions.

Acceptance by courts, government increases

In recent years, and this year, gay rights and same-sex marriages are becoming increasingly accepted by the courts and the federal government.

Gays can now openly serve in the U.S. military. The federal government announced Friday that all same-sex couples who are legally married will be recognized as such for federal tax. In June, a U.S. Supreme Court decision struck down the federal Defense of Marriage Act.

The two lawyers representing Bradacs and Goodwin are John Nichols and Carrie Warner. Nichols represented Lillian McBride, the former Richland County elections director, in a recent highly-publicized battle over the mismanaged November 2012 election.

Although McBride was demoted and given a pay decrease, she got to keep a prominent post with a still-substantial salary.

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