Appeals court lets gay marriage go ahead in South Carolina

By Harriet McLeod CHARLESTON S.C (Reuters) - Same-sex weddings could happen in South Carolina as soon as Thursday after the 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals declined on Tuesday to block a district court ruling that struck down South Carolina's gay marriage ban. The move, which paves the way for South Carolina to become the 34th U.S. state to permit gay marriage unless the U.S. Supreme Court intervenes, was cheered by gay rights advocates. "We are ecstatic as we get ready to go pick up our license at noon on Thursday," said Colleen Condon, a plaintiff in the case, in a statement. The South Carolina Attorney General's Office, which has defended the ban, asked U.S. Supreme Court Chief Justice John Roberts to stay the district court's ruling. "Today's ruling by the Fourth Circuit does not end the constitutional obligation of this Office to defend South Carolina law," the state's Republican attorney general, Alan Wilson, said in a statement. In separate court action on South Carolina's same-sex marriage ban on Tuesday, U.S. District Court Judge Michelle Childs ruled that the state must recognize same-sex marriages of 0couples wed outside its borders. The U.S. Supreme Court last week rejected a stay application filed by Kansas officials similar to the one filed by South Carolina officials. Like South Carolina, Kansas was bound by a regional appeals court ruling that struck down bans in other states. That same day, U.S. District Judge Richard Gergel ruled that South Carolina was bound by the 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals decision striking down a similar law in Virginia. Gergel put his ruling on hold for a week to allow the state time to appeal. Although gay marriage advocates have had the advantage in the courts over the past year, a Cincinnati-based federal appeals court on Nov. 6 became the first to uphold gay marriage bans. That decision by the 6th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals backing four states' bans created a split within the courts, increasing the chances the Supreme Court will rule once and for all on whether states can ban gay marriage. The high court has so far declined to take up cases that would lead to a definitive ruling on gay marriage, allowing gay marriage to proceed in five states when it refused to hear appeals in seven cases in October. (Additional reporting by Lawrence Hurley, Jonathan Kaminsky and Letitia Stein; Writing by David Adams; Editing by Sandra Maler and Peter Cooney)