- Associated Press - Wednesday, December 10, 2014

COLUMBIA, S.C. (AP) - A federal judge no longer needs to consider a same-sex couple’s challenge of the South Carolina Department of Motor Vehicles’ policy on driver’s license name changes because of court decisions allowing gay marriages in the state and subsequent policy changes by the state’s agencies, state attorneys say in a court filing.

In papers filed in federal court Tuesday, lawyers representing the state say the lawsuit is now moot, and same-sex married couples can change their names if they meet requirements pertaining to any couple.

However, the filing comes as Republican South Carolina Attorney General Alan Wilson continues to fight to uphold the state’s constitutional ban on same-sex unions, saying federal appeals courts have issued conflicting rulings and the U.S. Supreme Court has not fully resolved the issue.

On Nov. 20, government agencies in South Carolina began recognizing gay marriages, giving health care coverage to spouses and children of same-sex couples. They also let residents change their last name on their driver’s license if they show a marriage license.

“Since November 20, 2014, Defendant Department of Motor Vehicles has allowed name changes on drivers’ licenses based upon same-sex marriages provided that the applicants otherwise meet the requirements of State law,” state attorneys wrote in their Tuesday filing.

With the filing, state attorneys included copies of updated DMV policies, which removed a citation saying same-sex marriages were not recognized as a basis for name change and replaced the terms “husband and wife” with “spouse.”

The state’s first gay marriage licenses were handed out Nov. 19, and a Charleston couple exchanged vows on the courthouse steps there. The U.S. Supreme Court refused to block the marriages.

Tuesday’s filing was the state’s official response to an October lawsuit filed by Julie McEldowney, who said she legally changed her name with the Social Security Administration after marrying her wife in the District of Columbia earlier this year.

Armed with her marriage license and federally issued paperwork reflecting her name change - documents, her lawyers wrote, that many couples frequently use to change their information on state-issued cards - McEldowney went to the South Carolina DMV to get a license with her married name but was rejected.

This exclusion, McEldowney’s attorneys argue, violates her constitutional rights and is discriminatory based on her sexual orientation. The lawsuit asks a judge to order state officials to allow McEldowney to get a license with her married name, and to rule that the DMV’s actions were unconstitutional.

McEldowney’s attorney did not immediately return a message seeking comment on whether his client had successfully changed her name since the state policy changes went into effect Nov. 20.

The lawsuit was one of several challenges filed to South Carolina’s same-sex marriage ban. A federal judge in Charleston struck down the ban, saying the state is bound by an appellate court’s decision on a similar law in Virginia. The U.S. Supreme Court declined Wilson’s request for an emergency stay.


Kinnard can be reached at https://twitter.com/MegKinnardAP

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