COLUMBIA — More South Carolinians are tolerant of same-sex marriage, but a majority still oppose it, according to a new Winthrop Poll.
More than 52 percent of adults, polled by Winthrop, said marriages between same-sex couples should not be recognized by the law as valid, with the same rights as heterosexual marriages.
But nearly 39 percent said same-sex marriages should be recognized by law and carry the same rights as marriages between a man and a woman.
The poll, which asked the same-sex marriage question exclusively for The State to judge South Carolina attitudes after a controversial Supreme Court ruling, surveyed 887 adults in South Carolina from Oct. 19 to 27. The poll had a margin of error of plus or minus 3.3 percent.
“It shows that in the last twelve years, there has been a change or a shift in how South Carolinians feel about the issue,” said Ryan Wilson, executive director of S.C. Equality, a gay, lesbian, transgender and bisexual advocacy group.
“Folks are moving toward understanding that same-sex couples should deserve, at least, the same rights as heterosexual couples.”
Same-sex marriage has been outlawed in state law since 1996, when the state passed a Defense of Marriage law.
In 2006, South Carolina voters approved a constitutional amendment 78 percent to 22 percent stating that the only lawful marriage in the Palmetto State is one between a man and a woman.
A 2006 Winthrop Poll, taken before voters cast ballots on the constitutional amendment, had results in line with that outcome.
Other polls also suggest South Carolinians’ opposition to legal same-sex marriage is waning.
A 2011 poll from Public Policy Polling showed that 21 percent of South Carolina voters said it should be legal, with 69 percent saying it should be illegal. In December, another Public Policy poll asked South Carolina voters whether same-sex marriage should be allowed – 27 percent said yes, while 62 percent said no.
State Rep. Greg Delleney, R-Chester, who sponsored the House bill that led to the 2006 constitutional amendment, said the most recent Winthrop Poll results – showing that 39 percent of South Carolinians say same-sex marriage should be recognized by law – seem high to him.
“They do surprise me,” he said.
Delleney says the pollsters asked the wrong question. He said they should have asked those polled whether they would favor repealing South Carolina current law, which bans same-sex marriage.
The Winthrop Poll asked: “Do you think marriages between same-sex couples should or should not be recognized by the law as valid, with the same rights as a marriage between a man and a woman?”
Wilson of S.C. Equality said the Supreme Court’s recent ruling to strike down the federal Defense of Marriage Act, which barred the federal government from recognizing same-sex marriages, is paving the way for court challenges to state marriage laws across the country.
Two Lexington County women are challenging South Carolina’s 1996 Defense of Marriage law and its 2006 constitutional amendment in a pending federal court case.