COLUMBIA — “Thank you for your application. Unfortunately the laws of the State of South Carolina forbid the application of same-sex couples for marriage licenses.”
The Rev. Candace and Wanda Chellew-Hodge, along with Ed Madden and Bert Easter, complete an application for a marriage license.
This was the response organizers expected and indeed received from the clerk at the Probate Court in the Richland County Judicial Center in Columbia, S.C., when two gay couples attempted to secure marriage licenses.
Despite the rejection, partners Rev. Candace and Wanda Chellew-Hodge and Bert Easter and Ed Madden, left the courthouse smiling with pride at their stand for marriage equality. Bert Easter even thanked the clerk with the promise, “We’ll be back.”
The Feb. 12 demonstration was the fourth annual celebration of Marriage Equality Day in South Carolina, an event sponsored by the South Carolina Gay and Lesbian Pride Movement (SCGLPM), held in conjunction with the Freedom to Marry coalition’s 11th annual Marriage Equality Week.
Twenty local leaders and activists, including both gay and straight individuals, gathered in front of the Judicial Center at 9:45 a.m. Before entering the building, representatives of SCGLPM made a brief statement explaining the purpose of the event to reporters from several television and print news outlets. The two couples, accompanied by a Unitarian and retired Methodist Minster and Columbia activist Harriet Hancock, posed for photographs before entering the security checkpoint at the courthouse’s main entrance.
The crowd garnered attention from county employees as they walked toward the marriage license office. One smiling woman stopped the group to share that her daughter recently celebrated 15 years with her lesbian partner. She shook hands with everyone and thanked them for such a public statement.
The staff of the probate court greeted the two couples with kindness and sympathy, knowing that they would have to reject their applications to have their relationships validated by the state.
According to the 2000 U.S. Census, there are 15,000 South Carolinians living with same-sex partners. Thirty percent of gay male couples and 40 percent of lesbian couples reported having children as well. The Census also revealed that Sumter County, S.C., has the third largest concentration of black lesbian couples with children in the nation.
Supporters of the two couples attempting to apply for marriage licenses stand in the lobby of the Richland County Probate Court.
These are real families in South Carolina suffering from the discriminatory laws and constitutional amendment that ban same-sex marriage.
“Every year, right around President Lincoln’s birthday and Valentine’s Day, gay and non-gay people around the country gather to talk about our lives, our loves and our families, celebrate the victories from the year before and continue the fight for the freedom to marry,” said Freedom to Marry director Evan Wolfson.
“Freedom to Marry Week 2008 is one more chance to ask those around us to put themselves in same-sex couples’ shoes and ask, ‘How would I feel if I couldn’t marry the person I love?’”
He concluded, “With state high court decisions in marriage cases pending in Connecticut,
California, and Iowa; legislatures from New Jersey to Washington, Maryland to Illinois, New York to California, dealing with the reality that civil unions don’t work and the freedom to marry matters; and conversations among the reachable middle moving hearts every day, Freedom to Marry Week offers an opportunity to give people the information they need to rise to fairness.”
The Columbia action was one of dozens of education and direct action events planned across the country as part of the Freedom to Marry campaign.
— R.C. Wilson is the interim president of the S.C. Gay and Lesbian Pride Movement.