Could South Carolina ruling on same-sex tax filing be catalyst for change?

For Weekly SurgeFebruary 11, 2014 

Happy Valentine’s - S.C. srews over gay couples, again

Just in time for Valentine’s Day the South Carolina Department of Revenue (SCDOR) issued its decree that it will not allow legally married same-sex couples - i.e. those who were wed in a state where its legal, but now reside in South Carolina - to file joint tax returns. During the wait during the last few weeks, many of us chose to abide in hope but at the same time, we were still very much aware of the challenge that we faced simply because South Carolina is South Carolina. Our institutions of government are not likely to make the list of those who nurture the most gay-friendly environment. Some may attribute it to bureaucracy but my personal assessment is far less generous.

There are matters that were not discussed in polite company at one time. One of the great old Southern traditions is that we live in denial of subjects that make us uncomfortable. Our state officials are doing their best to uphold that fine tradition. While the IRS will allow the legally-married couples to file joint returns like every other married couple, the honorable officials of the Great State of South Carolina are asking those same couples to lie. In effect, it is as if the couples are giving one sworn statement to the federal government and a completely different one to the state. Interesting concept but I have to give it low marks on integrity. That sort of behavior is reserved for members of Congress, not respectable residents.

During the period when we were waiting for the decision to be announced, someone else stepped to the forefront to speak up for the rights of the LGBTQ community in South Carolina. State Rep. Todd Rutherford, D-Richland, filed a bill, H.4461, that would allow same-sex couples to file a joint state tax return. Just to show that he’s not simply grandstanding for a headline, Rutherford also filed a bill, H.4460, which would ask voters to approve a constitutional amendment repealing South Carolina's same-sex marriage ban.

Voters overwhelmingly approved the same-sex marriage ban by 78 percent in 2006 and added Amendment I to the state constitution. Since that time, polls don’t look quite as promising on the subject for social conservatives. Recent polls by The State, The New York Times and The Washington Post put that number at almost an even 46 percent to 46 percent split. That, my friends, qualifies the Palmetto State as a battleground state for marriage equality. And if there’s any arena where South Carolina should feel at home, it has something to do with battlegrounds.

Now I’m not one to fire a warning shot to the opposition. I would much rather they be taken by surprise. However, this new poll is something that is worthy of everyone’s attention. Polls that put the margin back in favor of the conservative camp can only muster a waning 52 percent who feel that same-sex marriages should not be recognized under state law. So, with a 26 percent decline in support over an eight year period, it appears as if the momentum for equality is gaining ground in South Carolina. This mirrors the more obvious national trend which shows that people are simply becoming more tolerant across all generations. The news gets a bit worse for staunch conservatives regarding Republicans aged 18 to 49. They are decidedly in favor of marriage equality. As if on cue after the ruling from the SCDOR, the Justice Department announced that it will instruct all of its employees nationwide to give lawful same-sex marriages sweeping protection in every program it administers. This encompasses everything from courthouse proceedings to the compensation of the surviving spouse of a public safety officer to prison visits. We wanted equal, Attorney General Eric Holder is giving us equal. Holder stated that “in every courthouse, in every proceeding and in every place where a member of the Department of Justice stands on behalf of the United States — they will strive to ensure that same-sex marriages receive the same privileges, protections, and rights as opposite-sex marriages under federal law.”

Human Rights Campaign President Chad Griffin said in a statement: “While the immediate effect of these policy decisions is that all married gay couples will be treated equally under the law, the long-term effects are more profound. Today, our nation moves closer toward its ideals of equality and fairness for all.”

So, while we may not have received exactly what we asked for from our state this time, we are much closer than many of us ever expected to be in our lifetimes. Often, a setback or denial of rights is the exact catalyst needed to prompt more people into action. So, as you file your taxes this year and go about your dealings with our state government, remember this: 2014 is an election year. The Governor, Lieutenant Governor, Secretary of State, Treasurer, Attorney General and the rest of the usual suspects can either remain in their jobs or be banished in favor of progress. Start working now. It’s time to make our state a leader in equality.

OUT & ABOUT

Friday, Feb. 14 – Breonna Tanae hosts the Miss Heartbeat Pageant at Pulse Ultra Club. The Pageant begins at 11 p.m. Club Pulse is located at 803 Main Street in Myrtle Beach. For additional information, visit www.facebook.com/PulseUltraClub.

Wednesday, Feb. 26 – Prime Timers of Myrtle Beach will meet for its Fourth Wednesday Social at 6:30 p.m. at Romando's Italian Restaurant in Myrtle Beach. Romando's Italian Restaurant is located at 2001 N. Kings Highway, Myrtle Beach. For additional information and directions, visit the Prime Timer’s Web site at www.primetimersww.com/primetimersmb/.

Friday, March 7 – Curtis Slade’s White Party will return to Pulse Ultra Club. The celebration will include a Dance Party with DJ Mackel, a costume contest for the best White Party Costume and a midnight show with Desiree Valentino and Andrea Carlisle. Details are available on the Pulse Ultra Club Facebook page at www.facebook.com/PulseUltraClub.

Have a thought, comment or Out & About event? Send Drew Levy-Neal an e-mail to Drew.Levy.Neal@gmail.com. You can also follow him on Twitter: @Drew_Levy_Neal.

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