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Couple Sues S.C. Over Same-Sex Marriage Ban

(CN) - The first gay couple to apply for South Carolina marriage license sued Gov. Nikki Haley and state Attorney General Alan Wilson for denying their "fundamental right to marry."

In a lawsuit filed in the federal court in Charleston, Colleen Condon, a county councilwoman, and her partner, Anne Nichols Bleckley, say South Carolina's refusal to allow same-sex marriages flies in the face of the 4th Circuit's ruling in Bostic v. Schaefer, and the Supreme Court's recent denied of all petitions for certiorari in the case.

In Bostic, the 4th Circuit held that same-sex couples have a fundamental right to marry which cannot be denied or infringed absent a compelling state interest, and it rejected all justifications put forward by the Commonwealth of Virginia to prevent such marriages.

Condon and Bleckley contend that as the 4th Circuit has jurisdiction over South Carolina, the state is prohibited from erecting barriers to same-sex couples wishing to exercise their rights.

"The law in this Circuit is now clear," the couple say, before going on to quote from the 4th Circuit ruling:

"The choice of whether and whom to marry is an intensely personal decision that alters the course of an individual's life. Denying same-sex couples this choice prohibits them from participating fully in our society, which is precisely the type of segregation that the Fourteenth Amendment cannot countenance."

Last week, hours after Charleston County Probate Judge Irvin Condon, a distant relative of plaintiff Condon, issued the couple a marriage license, Wilson filed an emergency motion with the S.C. Supreme Court, asking it to direct judges across the state not to furnish the licenses.

Within minutes, the state's highest court issued a one-page order, doing just that.

The plaintiffs say Gov. Nikki Haley and Wilson "stand alone in their continued attempt to systematically and illegally discriminate against individuals exercising their fundamental right to marry."

"By stepping in to institute proceedings to stop probate courts from issuing marriage licenses to same-sex couples, Wilson is violating Plaintiffs' constitutional rights and refusing to follow the law in this jurisdiction," Condon and Bleckley say. "Justice requires this Court act swiftly to restrain the in constitutional acts."

The couple is seeking declaratory and injunctive relief, and an order that Probate Judge Condon to reissue their marriage license, on claims they were deprive their rights to due process and equal protection under the law.

They are represented by Elizabeth Littrell of the LAMBDA Legal and Education Fund Inc., in Atlanta; Nikki Shutt, of Callison, Tighe & Robinson in Columbia; and Victoria Eslinger of Nexen Pruet, also in Columbia.

Same-sex couples across the country are making similar strides since the U.S. Supreme Court refused last week to intervene in decisions that found seven state bans on gay marriage unconstitutional.

Though a federal judge found a ban in Alaska unconstitutional on Oct. 12, the 9th Circuit stayed that decision Wednesday afternoon.

Earlier Wednesday, the 9th Circuit did not interfere with the granting of marriage licenses to same-sex couples in Idaho.

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