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South Carolina

Woman challenges S.C. gay marriage ban in seeking divorce from spouse

Friday, March 14, 2014
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COLUMBIA, S.C. — A South Carolina woman is challenging the state’s ban on same-sex marriage by seeking recognition both of her union and separation.

Cathy Swicegood of Mauldin says in a lawsuit filed this week in Greenville County that she wants a divorce from her partner of more than a decade.

South-CarolinaSwicegood and Polly Thompson were together for 13 years, sharing homes, bank accounts and other property, according to the lawsuit. Swicegood was also covered under Thompson’s health insurance plan, according to Swicegood’s attorney. Swicegood’s lawsuit names Thompson as the defendant.

Because of their shared life, according to the lawsuit, the pair should be considered to be married under the common law. Swicegood and Thompson split late last year, and Swicegood said that she should now be entitled to certain considerations – like an order keeping Thompson from liquidating joint assets – now that their union is over.

The lawsuit also asks that a South Carolina judge officially recognize Swicegood’s union with Thompson and their separation and also order that their joint property be equitably divided.

South Carolina passed a law banning same-sex marriage in 1996, and voters passed a similar constitutional amendment in 2006 with 78 percent of the vote.

In a letter sent Thursday to state Attorney General Alan Wilson and filed with the lawsuit, Swicegood’s attorney said he intended to use the case as a challenge to that ban, which he said violates constitutional rights to due process and equal protection.

“It is the intent of Ms. Swicegood to raise the Constitutionality on the ban on same-sex marriages,” attorney John Reckenbeil wrote.

Wilson’s office said Friday that the letter had not been received. A message left at a number listed for Thompson was not immediately returned.

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A federal challenge to South Carolina’s same-sex marriage ban is still pending.

Last year, Highway Patrol Trooper Katherine Bradacs and Tracie Goodwin – a gay couple legally married in Washington, D.C. and living in South Carolina – sued Wilson and Gov. Nikki Haley, arguing that a recent U.S. Supreme Court decision shows that states can’t outlaw same-sex marriages because they do not approve of them.

In response, state officials said South Carolina doesn’t have to recognize gay marriages performed legally in other states and the nation’s capital, saying that forcing the state to change course would be unconstitutional. No hearings are upcoming in that lawsuit, which also asks a judge to temporarily suspend the gay marriage ban while the issue is in court.

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