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S.C. Gay Marriage Ban Ruled Unconstitutional

South Carolina's gay marriage ban was ruled unconstitutional today by a federal judge.

The ruling was stayed until November 20 to allow South Carolina a chance to appeal, but that seems unlikely given a decision by the 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in late July which ruled for gay marriage in Virginia. Both Virginia and South Carolina are governed by the laws of the 4th Circuit, so it may be a short time before same-sex couples are marrying in South Carolina.

But until then, what should you know about this South Carolina gay marriage decision?

Ruling Follows Higher Court

Reuters reports that, as of Wednesday, gay marriage is now legal in 32 states. That count does not include states like South Carolina, Missouri, and Kansas, which all had their bans struck down in federal court but have yet to begin marrying same-sex couples.

The ruling in South Carolina cited the 4th Circuit's controlling opinion on the matter, Bostic v. Schaefer, finding that the state's ban on gay marriage was unconstitutional as it violated constitutional due process and equal protection rights. Wednesday's ruling acknowledged that there was indeed one federal circuit which had upheld gay marriage bans as constitutional -- the 6th Circuit -- but its opinion was not legally binding on South Carolina.

Chances on Appeal

Although South Carolina gay marriage opponents have until next Thursday to file an appeal of the federal judge's decision, chances of success seem slim.

The Supreme Court has declined to take an appeal of the 4th Circuit's case striking down Virginia's gay marriage law, and it seems extremely unlikely that South Carolina will succeed where Virginia failed -- the laws are pretty similar. However, Reuters reports that South Carolina Attorney General Alan Wilson has vowed to appeal, believing he has "an obligation to defend state law as long as we have a viable path to do so."

The same is not true of West Virginia's Attorney General, who declared in October that his office would stop fighting for the state's gay marriage laws and would respect the 4th Circuit's opinion on the matter. Both West Virginia and South Carolina's same-sex marriage bans were struck down in federal court in the last week.

So until South Carolina's top brass change their tunes, same-sex couples in the Palmetto State may need to wait for a possible appeal to the 4th Circuit before they can legally tie the knot.

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