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South Carolina’s Governor Openly Opposed Marriage Equality in Debate

Gubernatorial candidates Joe Cunningham (L) and Henry McMaster
Gubernatorial candidates Joe Cunningham (L) and Henry McMaster

Gov. Henry McMasters, a Republican, also managed to misgender trans youth in the process.

South Carolina Governor Henry McMaster and his Democratic challenger, former U.S. House Representative Joe Cunningham squared off in the state's lone gubernatorial debate on Wednesday, and sparks flew between the two politicians over the issue of marriage equality.

The debate took place live on South Carolina Educational Television and was co-hosted by The Post and Courier.

"In our Constitution, it is not allowed and under our state law, it is not allowed," McMaster said. "I would follow state law, whatever the state law is."

The 75-year-old McMaster, who was appointed to the office in 2017 and won a full four-year term at the ballot box in 2018, then compared marriage equality to transgender youth playing sports according to their identity, also managing to misgender trans girls in the process.

"Maybe I'm old fashioned, but I think marriage ought to be between a man and a woman, just like I think that boys ought to play in boys' sports and girls ought to play in girls' sports."

Cunningham, 40, had been trying to pin down the governor's position on marriage equality for weeks and quickly pounced on McMaster's statements.

"It's 2022 and Gov. McMaster wants to ban same-sex marriage tonight," Cunningham said. "I just heard that tonight folks. We're running a campaign of more ideas versus his campaign of old ideas."

Rather than respond directly to Cunningham's response, McMasters touted the state's economic successes.

"We're doing well," McMaster said. "I listen to Congressman Cunningham and it sounds like the state's falling apart. If so, why are we booming?"

Colleen Condon, a board member of Alliance for Full Acceptance in Charleston, told The Post and Courier that the governor's response confirmed he is not attuned to the views and needs of his constituents.

"It is clear he is truly trying to lead South Carolina back to the 1950s," said Condon. "Gov. McMaster is out of touch and everyone needs [to] remember that on Election Day."

Marriage equality was not legal in the state until the Supreme Court's decision in Obergefell v. Hodges in 2015.

Cunningham, who represented the state's 1st Congressional District for one term before he was defeated in 2021 by current representative Nancy Mace, faces a tough uphill battle in the election. Current polls show McMaster consistently polling up to six points ahead of Cunningham.

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