State Supreme Court rules on domestic violence law
Nov. 18, 2017
CHARLESTON, S.C. (AP) — The South Carolina Supreme Court ruled Friday that two sections of the state's domestic violence law should stand as written.
The Post and Courier of Charleston reports the ruling declared the sections that made gender references unconstitutional "as applied." That avoids a situation where the law itself would be unconstitutional, rendering it useless.
The court also said there was "no reasonable basis . . . to support a definition resulting in disparate treatment of same-sex couples." That means protections will be extended to any unmarried couples, regardless of their sexual orientation.
Attorney General Alan Wilson issued a statement applauding the decision. He said it applies the state's domestic violence law to all victims of domestic violence, as his office argued that it should.
On Thursday, Gov. Henry McMaster called on the court to move quickly on the case.
In a letter to legislative leaders and in a motion to the high court, McMaster had said that victims cannot wait until January, when the General Assembly meets to possibly discuss changing law.
The court had been asked to reconsider its original July ruling, in which entire provisions that allow orders of protection for victims, and greater penalties for abusers, were deemed unconstitutional, meaning they wouldn't apply to any unmarried couples - straight or gay - who live together or once did.
But months passed without word from the Supreme Court's five justices.
"All survivors of domestic violence deserve dependable statutory safeguards," the governor told the court.
The case, Jane Doe v. State, involves a Richland County woman who applied for a protective order under the state's domestic violence law after she was hit and choked by a former fiancee, who also is a woman. Her request was denied because of the "male and female" language in the domestic violence law.
The Richland County woman complained directly to the state's high court, which took up the case in order to determine whether two portions of the law that referenced gender were constitutional.
For Bakari Sellers, one of the attorneys representing the Richland County woman, the ruling is also a relief.
"I'm extremely excited," Sellers said. "Basically we're covering hundreds of thousands of South Carolinians who were left out just because of who they loved."
Information from: The Post and Courier, http://www.postandcourier.com