COLUMBIA, S.C.—South Carolina’s domestic violence protections now apply equally to all couples—thanks in part to the work of Womble Bond Dickinson lawyer Kevin Hall and former firm attorney Allen O’Rourke.
In September, Hall and O’Rourke filed a pro bono amicus brief in support of the South Carolina Equality Coalition's efforts to clarify language in the law so that more South Carolinians are protected, including unmarried same-sex and opposite-sex couples.
The South Carolina Supreme Court considered those laws, focusing on specific language in the statute that applied to unmarried couples who currently or previously lived together. The way the statute was written, extending the protections of domestic violence laws to “a male and female who are cohabiting or formerly cohabited,” meant that opposite-sex unmarried couples would get the protections, but same-sex unmarried couples would not. Thus, the S.C. Supreme Court declared that this particular language of the statute violated the Equal Protection Clause of the 14th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution. However, the remedy chosen by the Court had the effect of withholding protection for unmarried same-sex and opposite-sex couples, rather than extending the protections to both groups.
In their amicus brief, Hall and O'Rourke argued that this is not what the law was intended to do. They and many others (including the South Carolina Attorney General) wanted to see domestic violence protections extended, not reduced. In November, the Court clarified its original order, holding that these protections apply to all couples, both married and unmarried. Click here to read the Court’s amended opinion.