Federal Judge Richard Gergel has struck down as unconstitutional South Carolina's ban on same-sex marriages, saying it violates the due process and equal protection rights of same-sex couples. Same-sex marriages can't start right away, though, because he gave the state until November 20th to appeal.
SC Attorney General Alan Wilson says he will. In a written statement, he said, "Today's ruling comes as no surprise and does not change the constitutional obligation of this Office to defend South Carolina law, including, but not necessarily limited to, appeal to the Fourth Circuit. Therefore, we will immediately appeal to the Fourth Circuit.
"Also, the Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals recently upheld traditional marriage. Therefore, we have opposing rulings between federal circuits, which means it is much more likely that the U.S. Supreme Court could resolve the matter at the national level. We believe this office has an obligation to defend state law as long as we have a viable path to do so.
"Finally, our state's laws on marriage are not identical to those in other states. Therefore, based on the time-honored tradition of federalism, this Office believes South Carolina's unique laws should have their day in court at the highest appropriate level."
University of South Carolina law professor Derek Black says the ruling is no surprise, and doesn't think the state's appeal to the 4th Circuit will work, at least not in that court. "The 4th Circuit has already ruled on the merits of the issue, which is why no one really understood why the state was resisting to begin with. So they will appeal to the 4th Circuit and the 4th Circuit will say, 'We've already ruled and we're affirming the district court.' I mean, I can't say that to an absolute certainty, but I can't imagine any other set of facts."
The couple whose lawsuit led to the ruling, Colleen Condon and Nichols Bleckley of Charleston, said after the ruling, "We just knew that we were in the right. We knew that our constitutional rights were at issue, and it was so much of a relief to see him agree with us."
The Palmetto Family Council, which helped write the state's constitutional amendment defining marriage as only between one man and one woman, says despite the ruling the fight isn't over. Palmetto Family president and CEO Oran Smith says the fact that the 6th Circuit recently ruled in favor of other states' bans on gay marriages means the issue is not settled.
"We officially have now what we've never had before and that is a circuit split," he says. "So the Supreme Court, the United States Supreme Court, clearly could still take this case. So we would like to see that happen. Then we would truly know that it had reached the highest court in the land."