COLUMBIA, S.C.—Equal protection under the law is a cherished American ideal. That’s why South Carolina Equality Coalition, Inc. and Womble Carlyle are working to ensure state domestic violence laws apply to all South Carolinians.
Womble Carlyle attorneys Kevin Hall and Allen O’Rourke have 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.
Recently, 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.
While that should be good news for equality advocates—and is, on some levels—the Court’s remedy creates an even bigger set of problems. In the name of making things equal under the law for same-sex and opposite-sex couples, the Court struck the language regarding cohabitating couples entirely. So now the law treats same-sex and opposite-sex unmarried couples equally, but does so by withholding the domestic violence laws’ protections from both groups.
Hall and O’Rourke argue that this is not what the law is intended to do. They and many others (including the South Carolina Attorney General) want to see domestic violence protections extended, not reduced.
Hall and O’Rourke write, “Unfortunately, the Court's choice of remedy —namely, achieving equality for same-sex couples by eliminating the domestic violence protections for similarly situated opposite-sex couples — casts a pall over this victory and leaves South Carolinians at even greater risk of lethal domestic violence. Jane Doe will continue to be denied the very protections that she has sought for so long and that have been withheld from her through official discrimination. Like the Attorney General, we respectfully urge this Court to refashion its remedy to preserve S.C. Code §§ 16-25-10(3)(d) and 20-4-20(b)(iv) while ensuring that same-sex couples are included.”
As part of the firm’s overall commitment to diversity and inclusion, Womble Carlyle supports the Human Rights Campaign, the largest civil rights organization working to achieve equality for lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and queer Americans. Since 2014, the Firm has earned a perfect score on the HRC’s Corporate Equality Index, which grades hundreds of major U.S. companies on support of LGBTQ employees. Also, Womble Carlyle has supported the Charlotte Lesbian and Gay Fund’s annual event, the Happening, for the past seven years. Through the pooled financial resources of individuals, corporations, and foundations, the Fund awards grants to organizations that support the LGBTQ community in Charlotte.
Click here to read the full amicus brief submitted to the South Carolina Supreme Court.