South Carolina state agencies begin recognizing same-sex marriages



CHARLESTON, S.C. — Government agencies in South Carolina began recognizing same-sex marriages on Thursday, giving health care coverage to the spouses and children of same-sex couples. Residents can also now change their last name on their driver’s license to their partner’s, as long as, like any couple, they show a marriage license.

South Carolina state capitol in Columbia.

South Carolina state capitol in Columbia.

The offer is extended to all married people in the state health plan. The 181,300 state employees receiving benefits range from teachers to police officers.

The first gay marriage licenses were handed out Wednesday and a Charleston couple exchanged vows on the courthouse steps there. On Thursday, the U.S. Supreme Court refused to block the marriages.

Still, the state’s top prosecutor, Republican Alan Wilson, vowed to fight to uphold the state’s constitutional ban on same-sex unions, saying federal appeals courts have issued conflicting rulings and the U.S. Supreme Court has not fully resolved the issue.

Gay marriage advocates disagreed. The high court’s order “officially puts an end to the long fight for access to marriage for South Carolina’s same-sex couples and their families,” said Beth Littrell, an attorney for Lamda Legal, a national civil rights law firm that assisted plaintiffs in a Charleston lawsuit for gay marriage.

While a 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals decision cleared the way for gay marriages in South Carolina and other states in the circuit, Wilson has argued a decision by the 6th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals upholding gay marriage bans in several Midwest states means the matter will likely again go to the U.S. Supreme Court.

“Our office will be supporting the position of the 6th Circuit Court of Appeals, which is more consistent with South Carolina state law, which upholds the unique status of traditional marriage,” Wilson said.

Kristin Anderson and her partner Kayla Bennett, of Charleston, were the first gay couple married in the state. Anderson said Thursday that she doesn’t expect any future court decisions to affect her marriage status.

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“I think the way things have gone that eventually, whether it’s sooner or later, there will be no question it will be legal,” she said.

South Carolina is one of nearly three dozen states where gay marriages have taken place, but the situation here had been murky because of different lawsuits. With those mostly settled in favor of gay marriage, Charleston County Probate Judge Irvin Condon began issuing licenses, and the South Carolina Supreme Court soon allowed judges statewide to issue same-sex licenses.

Kevin Crosby with the state’s Public Employee Benefit Authority said the agency had been preparing to extend coverage to same-sex spouses. That includes health, dental, vision and life insurance.

“We knew it wasn’t a matter of if, but when,” he said.

In all, the agency oversees benefits for nearly 460,000 public employees, retirees and their spouses and children. Participants in the state health plan include workers in state and local governments, school districts and colleges.

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