Metro Weekly

Republican Governor Wants a Statewide Ban on Gay Marriage

Henry McMaster says he'd enforce his state's ban if the Supreme Court overturned marriage equality, calling it "common sense."

South Carolina Governor Henry McMaster – Photo: SC National Guard, via Flickr.

South Carolina Gov. Henry McMaster said at a debate on Wednesday night that he would enforce a state ban on same-sex marriage if the U.S. Supreme Court were to overturn its own 2015 ruling legalizing the practice nationwide.

Participating in a debate, hosted by South Carolina Educational Television and the Charleston-based newspaper The Post and Courier, against former Democratic U.S. Rep. Joe Cunningham, McMaster was asked by a moderator whether he would support a ban on same-sex marriage if the nation’s highest court were to reverse precedent, as it did in a recent ruling that overturned a longstanding 1973 decision guaranteeing a federal right to abortion.

If the court were to overturn that decision, South Carolina’s existing ban on same-sex marriage, which was nullified by the high court, would immediately take effect. 

McMaster was also asked if he’d support putting the question of legalizing marriage equality back before voters, many of whom may have changed their opinions about same-sex marriage since 2006, when they overwhelmingly approved a constitutional amendment prohibiting recognition of same-sex marriages, civil unions, and any other contract or legal arrangement that recognizes same-sex relationships as valid.

“In our constitution, [gay marriage] it is not allowed, and under our state law, it is not allowed. I would follow state law, whatever state law is,” McMaster said.

“Maybe I’m old-fashioned, but I think a marriage ought to be between a man and a woman, just like I think that boys ought to play in boys’ sports and girls ought to play girls’ sports,” the governor added, echoing various Republican candidates who have prioritized the issue of transgender athletes as a wedge issue to use against Democrats this election cycle.

“You have to have some common sense in this arena, which seems to be changing all the time,” McMaster continued. “But I think that our traditions are strong, and I think they’re there for a reason.”

According to The Post and Courier, Cunningham appeared to be surprised by McMaster’s frankness about wishing to ban same-sex nuptials, given that the Democrat had previously tried to corner the governor on his views of same-sex couples and LGBTQ families. He then went on the attack at what he saw as a vulnerability for McMaster

“It’s 2022, and Gov. McMaster wants to ban same-sex marriage,” Cunningham said. “You just heard that tonight, folks. We have politicians who have been in government so long and become so calcified in their beliefs. 

“I don’t care who you are or who you love,” added Cunningham. “I don’t think it’s government’s role to be getting in the middle of that.”

McMaster got defensive, replying that he doesn’t care who people love either.

“I don’t care who you love or don’t love or who you want to live with or what you want to do,” he said. “That’s your business. But I think marriage is a special institution and that designation ought to be reserved between a man and a woman.”

McMaster is one of a number of prominent Republicans who have suggested in the aftermath of the Dobbs decision — which returned the issue of abortion back to the individual states — that the court should issue a similar decision when it comes to legal recognition of same-sex relationships.

Mindful of this looming threat, and mistrustful of the high court, congressional Democrats have attempted to enshrine the right to same-sex marriage into federal law by passing the Respect for Marriage Act. The bill passed the U.S. House of Representatives in July, with 47 Republicans voting with all members of the Democratic caucus in favor of the bill. The bill has stalled in the Senate, with Democratic leaders delaying the vote until after November’s elections. 

While many Republican lawmakers, including members of Congress, have dismissed the vote on the Respect for Marriage Act as unnecessary or an election-year stunt by Democrats to avoid talking about inflation, McMaster’s comments give fuel to assertions from left-leaning Americans who claim that Republicans, if ever given power, will move to ban same-sex marriage.

While polling suggests that that a majority of Republican voters now support marriage rights for same-sex couples, with 50% of South Carolinians supporting same-sex marriage, according to the Public Religion Research Institute, most Republicans who are ascendant on the national political stage appear to be salivating at the prospect of overturning the Supreme Court’s decision legalizing the practice. 

Colleen Condon, a board member of the Charleston-based LGBTQ rights group Alliance For Full Acceptance, told The Post and Courier that McMaster’s comments show his opposition to full equality.

“It is clear he is truly trying to lead South Carolina back to the 1950s,” said Condon, who, along with her wife, was granted the first same-sex marriage license in South Carolina. “Gov. McMaster is out of touch and everyone needs remember that on Election Day.”


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