Supreme Court Allows Gay Marriage to Proceed in South Carolina

Gay Marriage in South Carolina
Jennifer Rose, left, a county government employee and Sara Meadows, a teacher, file a marriage license application in Charleston, South Carolina October 9, 2014. Harriet McLeod/Reuters

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The U.S. Supreme Court on Thursday denied a request to block gay marriage from proceeding in South Carolina, clearing the way for it to become the 35th U.S. state where same-sex marriage is legal.

The order was another victory for gay marriage advocates after a federal judge in Montana on Wednesday struck down that state's ban on same-sex marriage.

"We're really thrilled," said Jeff Ayers, board chairman of South Carolina Equality. "This proves that all the way to the highest court, these were our rights from the beginning."

South Carolina's attorney general had asked the high court to temporarily block a lower court's ruling that overturned the state's gay marriage ban passed overwhelmingly by voters in 2006.

After the Supreme Court's order, South Carolina Attorney General Alan Wilson, a Republican, said he hoped the high court, which has so far declined to take up cases that would lead to a definitive ruling on gay marriage, would ultimately uphold the state's ban.

The South Carolina ban was struck down last week by U.S. District Judge Richard Gergel, who ruled the state was bound by the 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals decision striking down a similar law in Virginia.

Gergel put his ruling on hold for a week to allow the state to appeal with the 4th Circuit on Tuesday refusing to block it.

While gay marriage advocates have had the upper hand in the courts in the past year, a Cincinnati-based federal appeals court on Nov. 6 became the first to uphold gay marriage bans.

That decision by the 6th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals backing four states' bans created a split within the courts, increasing the chances the Supreme Court will rule once and for all on whether states can ban gay marriage.

Two of the U.S. Supreme Court's conservative members, Justices Antonin Scalia and Clarence Thomas, would have blocked the lower court's ruling on South Carolina, Thursday's order said.

With the court's action, gay marriage became legal in South Carolina at noon EST, although some licenses were issued and a handful of weddings were performed on Wednesday, Ayers said.