Gay marriage opponents in the S.C. Legislature find themselves on the wrong side of both the law and societal momentum. But, by golly, if they can’t ban same-sex marriage in the state, they at least can find ways to obstruct gays from exercising their legal right to marry.
At least they hope they can. Other lawmakers might have enough sense to deal instead with pressing needs facing the state while the U.S. Supreme Court sorts out the constitutionality of same-sex marriage.
The proposals to thwart gay marriage require legal contortions that are almost comical. For example, a bill sponsored by Rep. Bill Chumley, R-Spartanburg, would prohibit state and local taxpayer dollars from being used to pay government employees issuing a same-sex marriage license. Under this bill, employees issuing or recognizing those licenses would lose their salary and benefits.
Chumley apparently hasn’t considered that the bill would force government employees to flout the law and take an action that might be unconstitutional, or lose their pay if they don’t.
One bill – they’re all sponsored by Republicans – would prohibit punishment against state or local employees who refuse to assist in a same-sex marriage. Another would prohibit probate judges and clerks of court from requiring their employees to issue same-sex marriage licenses if they object based on religious beliefs.
This smacks of the days of Jim Crow, when restaurant owners asserted their right not to serve black customers. The Supreme Court told them they had no such right, and that, no doubt, also applies to issuing marriage licenses.
For now, at least, because of a ruling by the 4th Circuit Court of Appeals that struck down gay marriage bans in South Carolina, North Carolina, Virginia, West Virginia and Maryland, same-sex marriage is legal in this state. The Supreme Court agreed last week to hear arguments in April to determine whether gay couples have a constitutional right to get married and whether states must recognize same-sex marriages performed in other states where gay marriage is legal.
The ruling is expected by June, and that is likely to be the end of the legal discussion for some time, perhaps forever.
Meanwhile, South Carolina lawmakers need to quit trying to twist the law into pretzels to appease gay marriage opponents and let the legal cases play out. Lawmakers should spend their time instead working on ways to improve education, repair our roads, pass ethics reforms, reduce domestic violence and reform the tax system.
That’s enough to keep them busy without trying to enhance their re-election chances by pandering to voters who refuse to recognize changing reality.