One Greenville lawyer says his client has been denied her fundamental right as an American citizen because she's gay and is now looking to deem South Carolina's ban on same-sex marriages.
Cathy Swicegood says she was in a common-law marriage with Polly Thompson for 13 years before they separated last fall, but because gay marriage is prohibited in South Carolina and only recognized between a man and a woman, she says she's not eligible to receive the things a heterosexual common-law married couple would receive in a divorce.
"There is absolutely no ability for her to walk into a family court and say to the judge 'I need the contempt power of the court to be held over my spouse so that I have equal rights and equal distribution to the property that I've acquired over the course of the relationship," said Swicegood's lawyer, John Reckenbeil.
Reckenbeil filed paperwork for separation support on Thursday afternoon at the Greenville Family Court and has notified Attorney General Alan Wilson that he's looking to fight the law.
"We are seeking the courts to issue an order to say both South Carolina laws that ban same-sex marriage are unconstitutional not only under the South Carolina constitution, but more important under the United States constitution," said Reckenbeil.
Since Thompson's insurance recognizes domestic partnerships, but needs a qualifying event such as a divorce to continue coverage, Swicegood was denied the standard Cobra healthcare plan.
"Being treated the way I've been treated and then having the laws strike you down and tell you you have nowhere to go, nowhere to turn to, it's just unbelievable that in a country as wonderful as ours, that you could be treated this way," said Swicegood.
News 19 reached out to Polly Thompson's lawyer, Margaret Chamberlain, who says though she and her client agree that the law is unconstitutional, they don't believe this is a gay rights case.
Chamberlain says Thompson denies the couple were in a common-law marriage because they never presented themselves as a married couple and has filed a petition with the courts to decide on how to distribute the properties the two owned together.
Reckenbeil says the ruling needs to go deeper than the property distribution and also divide the couple's joint bank account and retirement fund, as well as offer Swicegood insurance coverage.