- Associated Press - Thursday, October 9, 2014

COLUMBIA, S.C. (AP) - About three-dozen gay and lesbian couples who dreamed of getting married in South Carolina saw their hopes dashed at least temporarily Thursday when the state Supreme Court ordered probate judges not to give licenses for same-sex marriages.

The high court’s decision capped a whirlwind week of legal maneuvers in which gay marriage seemed almost imminent in a state where it and long seemed impossible, and then once again it looked like it would be weeks before the first gay wedding in this deep South state.

“It’s going to happen,” said Charleston County Councilwoman Colleen Condon, who was part of the first gay couple to have an application for a marriage license accepted in the state. “I wish the state would get out of the way as soon as possible.”

The state Supreme Court ruled that South Carolina must wait for a federal judge to rule in a case challenging the state constitution’s gay marriage ban. That case, which had been on hold, is moving ahead again after the U.S. Supreme Court decided Monday not to hear an appeal of a ruling allowing same-sex marriage in Virginia by a federal appeals court with jurisdiction over South Carolina.

Following the U.S. high court’s decision Condon and her fiancee Nichols Bleckley decided Wednesday to see if they could apply for a marriage license in Charleston County. Probate Judge Irvin Condon, a distant relative to the councilwoman, stunned the entire state by accepting it and about 25 more by Thursday morning. Richland County also accepted applications, while the rest of the state waited for more guidance.

For a day, it looked like South Carolina’s first same-sex wedding was about to happen. A rally at the Statehouse originally intended to pressure state leaders to quit fighting to uphold the ban turned into a party. Facebook pages of gay rights supporters pinged with news of engagement rings being bought and dates being set.

Condon and Bleckley began finalizing details like invitations and flowers. They waited, however, to put a deposit down on the site because they knew gay marriage opponents weren’t done fighting.

State law requires a 24-hour wait between applying for a marriage license and granting the document. State Attorney General Alan Wilson used that time to ask the state Supreme Court to block the licenses while the federal court was heard.

So instead of standing together in Charleston to get their license Thursday morning, Bleckley stayed in Charleston to wait on the paperwork, while Condon was 100 miles away in Columbia monitoring the state Supreme Court.

They called each other frequently. “I’m down here in Columbia waiting for news. Wish I was with you,” Condon said as she answered her phone in a conference room at the Supreme Court.

The 24-hour waiting period ended with no word. Then an hour after the deadline, Judge Condon issued a statement that the Supreme Court was a considering the appeal from Wilson’s office and no licenses would be issued.

“It’s disappointing that it wasn’t issued now, but we know it will be. We’re confident of that,” Bleckley said.

The state Supreme Court’s decision came about an hour later. It turns attention back to a September 2013 lawsuit filed by Highway Patrol Trooper Katherine Bradacs and U.S. Air Force retiree Tracie Goodwin. The couple, who were married in Washington, D.C., are suing to have South Carolina’s gay marriage ban overturned and their union legally recognized.

The case had been on hold, but Monday’s ruling prompted federal judge Michelle Childs to put it back on track. She has asked both sides to give her a schedule for submitting briefs next week. Legal experts think it’s just a matter of time before she finds the 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruling in Virginia applies to South Carolina.

Wilson stressed that he was upholding his oath of office by defending the constitutional amendment banning same-sex marriage that passed in 2006 with 78 percent of the vote.

But lawyers for gay couples who want to marry disagree. “To do his job, he must also uphold federal law,” said Malissa Burnette, a lawyer for Condon and Bleckley.

And while Wilson, Gov. Nikki Haley and other South Carolina leaders have not been vitriolic in defending the gay marriage ban, Condon said they still broke hearts and made a number of people in their state again feel like second-class citizens.

Wilson “might as well be standing in the door of this building, telling me I can’t get my marriage license,” Condon said.


Associated Press writer Bruce Smith contributed to this report from Charleston.

Follow Jeffrey Collins on Twitter at https://twitter.com/JSCollinsAP

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