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Federal Judge Strikes Down South Carolina's Marriage Ban

Federal Judge Strikes Down South Carolina's Marriage Ban

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U.S. District Judge Richard Gergel ruled South Carolina's marriage ban unconstitutional, but placed his decision on hold until November 20.

A federal judge struck down South Carolina's same-sex marriage ban this morning. The judge placed his ruling on hold while the state decides whether to appeal, meaning same-sex couples cannot yet marry in the state.

U.S. District Judge Richard Gergel ruled the state's ban unconstitutional, but implemented a stay on the ruling until November 20 at noon, according to Columbia, S.C., news station WIS-TV. When it takes effect, the ruling will prohibit state officials from enforcing the state's constitutional amendment and statuatory prohibition banning same-sex marriage.

"The Court hereby declares that [existing South Carolina marriage laws], to the extent they seek to prohibit the marriage of same sex couples who otherwise meet all other legal requirements for marriage in South Carolina, unconstitutionally infringe on the rights of plaintiffs under the Due Process Clause of the Fourth Amendment of the United States Constitution and are invalid as a matter of law," reads Gergel's decision.

South Carolina's Attorney General's Office will review the ruling during the stay, and is expected to appeal. Attorney General Alan Wilson and Gov. Nikki Haley, both Republicans, have previously pledged to fight to uphold the ban, even in the face of a pro-equality precedent set in the federal circuit that includes South Carolina, which was made legally binding after the U.S. Supreme Court last month declined to review a pro-equality decision from Virginia out of the Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals.

South Carolina is currently the only state in the Fourth Circuit without marriage equality, after West Virginia began marrying same-sex couplesshortly after the Supreme Court's October action. North Carolina began allowing same-sex couples to marry just one day after West Virgina, and Maryland, the final state included in the Fourth Circuit, has had marriage equality since 2012.

Today's ruling could impact an estimated 7,200 same-sex couples in South Carolina, according to The Post and Courier.

"According to today's federal court ruling and two dozen others over the last year, there is no justifiable reason to keep these discriminatory marriage bans on the books," said Human Rights Campaign legal director Sarah Warbelow in a statement. "The truth is, laws prohibiting same-sex couples from marrying serve no purpose other than to harm Americans who simply want to protect and provide for themselves and their families. Ultimately the U.S. Constitution does not allow states to continue discriminating against committed loving gay and lesbian couples."

While the past year -- since the Supreme Court issued its landmark ruling striking down the federal Defense of Marriage Act in June 2013 -- has seen more than 50 federal and state courts rule in favor of marriage equality, just last week, the Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals upheld bans on marriage equality in Kentucky, Michigan, Ohio, and Tennessee. That ruling was only the fourth since last year's Windsor decision to find in favor of antigay-marriage laws, and the same-sex couples who filed suit immediately announced their plans to appeal the anti-equality ruling to the U.S. Supreme Court.

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