Couple asks federal court to allow gay marriages to proceed in South Carolina

Colleen Condon

Nichols Beckley, left and, Colleen Condon after their application for a marriage license was accepted on Wednesday, Oct. 8, 2014 by a probate judge in Charleston. S.C. The couple will receive the license Thursday after a 24-hour waiting period unless the issuance is stayed by the South Carolina Supreme Court or another appropriate court. Bruce Smith, AP

CHARLESTON, S.C. — Gay marriages should be allowed to proceed in South Carolina because the state is unlikely to win its appeal to block them and has not shown it would suffer harm if such marriages take place, attorneys for a same-sex couple say.

Nichols Beckley, left and, Colleen Condon after their application for a marriage license was accepted on Wednesday, Oct. 8, 2014 by a probate judge in Charleston. S.C. The couple will receive the license Thursday after a 24-hour waiting period unless the issuance is stayed by the South Carolina Supreme Court or another appropriate court. Bruce Smith, AP

Nichols Beckley, left and, Colleen Condon after their application for a marriage license was accepted on Wednesday, Oct. 8, 2014 by a probate judge in Charleston. S.C.

The couple has filed a lawsuit asking that they be allowed to marry.

“Same-sex couples in South Carolina should not be forced to endure additional delay before they can access the marriage-related protections and dignities that this court has already recognized as guaranteed by the United States Constitution,” they wrote in a filing late Sunday with the 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Richmond, Virginia.

U.S. District Judge Richard Gergel last week threw out South Carolina’s state constitutional ban on same-sex marriages and said such marriages could begin at noon this Thursday, ruling in a suit brought by Colleen Condon and Nichols Bleckley of Charleston.

Attorney General Alan Wilson then asked the appeals court to put the order on hold, saying that the marriages would cause the state irreparable harm and that the U.S. Supreme Court is likely to take up the issue.

If the marriages proceed, it will cause legal confusion about the status of those who marry if the state wins its appeal, he argued. “At this stage, the injury to the state and its people from allowing marriages to go forward in the interim outweighs any perception of harm to the plaintiffs,” Wilson wrote.

However, the attorneys say in court filings that same-sex couples and their children would be harmed “because marriage discrimination imposes a heavy cost, financial and emotional.”

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The U.S. Supreme Court last month refused to hear an appeal of a 4th Circuit decision allowing same-sex marriage in Virginia. That cleared the way for marriages in other states, and South Carolina is the only state in the circuit refusing to allow such marriages.

Wilson has argued a decision by the 6th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Cincinnati upholding gay marriage bans in several states means the issue will likely go before the U.S. Supreme Court.

But given the earlier 4th Circuit decision, attorneys for Condon and Bleckley argue it is unlikely South Carolina can win its appeal.

“A panel of this court is not free to abandon a prior panel ruling and instead, follow another circuit’s ruling on the same issue,” they wrote.

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