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Haley, Sheheen both support gay-marriage ban

By Adam Beam
abeam@thestate.com

South Carolina’s two announced candidates for governor in 2014 both think marriage “is between a man and a woman,” beliefs unaltered by a federal lawsuit filed by a gay couple challenging the state’s constitutional ban on gay marriage.

“I stand behind that constitutional amendment and will continue to fight to make sure that states have the ability to decide what they want marriage to be in their state,” Nikki Haley told reporters Tuesday, after a State Budget and Control Board meeting. “I was one of the people in 2006 that voted in the Legislature that said marriage should be between a man and a woman. So I’m going to continue to stand behind that.”

Andrew Whalen, Vincent Sheheen's campaign manager, said the Camden senator was unavailable to comment Tuesday. But Whalen said Sheheen “continues to personally believe that marriage is between one man and one woman.” Sheheen voted in favor of the gay-marriage ban in the state Senate in 2005 and 2007.

“The U.S. Supreme Court has left this decision to the states, and South Carolina has laws and a constitutional amendment addressing this issue,” Whalen said.

Gay marriage has not been a political issue in South Carolina since 2006, when 78 percent of voters approved an amendment to the state Constitution to ban gay marriage. Since then, while debate has raged nationally, gay marriage has not been an issue for S.C. candidates.

But that could change now that Katherine Bradacs and Tracie Goodwin have filed a federal lawsuit challenging the state’s gay-marriage ban. The lawsuit comes months after a federal court overturned a similar constitutional ban on gay marriage in California. The U.S. Supreme Court allowed that ruling to stand.

In addition to Haley, the federal lawsuit also names as a defendant state Attorney General Alan Wilson, a Lexington Republican who is running for re-election in 2014. A spokesman said Tuesday that Wilson had no immediate comment.

“We just got the lawsuit, and we are reviewing it,” said spokesman J. Mark Powell.

Nationally, a majority of Americans support gay marriage, according to polls. But a December poll by Public Policy Polling – one of the most recent polls available – found 62 percent of S.C. voters said same-sex marriage should not be allowed, while 27 percent said it should be allowed. (Ten percent were not sure.)

South Carolina ranks 38th in the country in the number of same-sex couples – 4.01 per 1,000 households, according to the U.S. Census. But gay S.C. couples are much more likely to identify themselves as husbands and wives. Twenty-two percent of same-sex couples in South Carolina identify themselves as married, ranking 16th highest in the country. Massachusetts, where same-sex marriage is legal, ranked No. 1 at 44 percent.

The gay marriage issue has the potential to cause more problems for Democrat Sheheen. Sheheen has been consistent in his opposition to same-sex marriage. But Republicans often try to tie state Democratic candidates to their national counterparts, including President Barack Obama who supported gay marriage in 2012.

But Republican political consultant Chip Felkel, based in Greenville, the most socially conservative part of South Carolina, said any attempt to link Sheheen to Obama on gay marriage would “be wasted breath.”

“I don’t see how it becomes a major campaign issue,” Felkel said. “Everybody knows where everybody is. At the end of the day, it is South Carolina.”

Columbia attorney Marissa Burnette, chairwoman of the litigation task force for the S.C. Equality gay rights advocacy group, said she was disappointed with Haley and Sheheen for not supporting gay marriage. She added the federal lawsuit, which Burnette’s group is not involved in, could force politicians to deal with the question.

“I don’t think it is sufficient to say that people voted on it in 2006 and that’s the end of it,” Burnette said. “The issue is up for decision again now.”

Robert Oldendick, executive director of the University of South Carolina’s Institute for Public Service, said the gay marriage issue “has the potential ... to be an issue (in 2014), but it won’t be a very big one.”

“If the lawsuit gets settled before the campaign – and it’s really pretty clear that through the court system that federal law is going to essentially force states to recognize and give benefits to gay married couples – then it is no longer a state issue,” he said.

But veteran GOP political consultant Luke Byars said S.C. politics often is shaped by national issues, adding if the gay-marriage issue picks up steam nationally it could become a major issue here as well. Some of the biggest issues debated in the most recent session of the state General Assembly were national issues, including nullifying the federal Affordable Care Act and the federal National Defense Authorization Act.

“Every time they change in D.C., it seems to kind of change the question of what may be on the minds of people in South Carolina,” Byars said.

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