COLUMBIA, S.C. (AP) — Advocates of gay rights say no matter what happens to an anti-discrimination bill that Democrats managed to get to the House floor, this has been a surprisingly quiet legislative session for gay issues.
Many feared a number of measures to roll back gay rights would pass or at least get plenty of attention after a federal judge legalized same-sex marriage in South Carolina last fall. But all five bills against gay rights tracked by advocacy group South Carolina Equality have been stuck in committee without a hearing, said the chairman of the group's board Jeff Ayers.
"We should be all be proud South Carolina has a chance to stand alone as one of the only states in the Deep South to be able to make that claim," Ayers said.
Ayers and others who support gay rights were at the Statehouse on Tuesday because the anti-discrimination bill was on the House calendar for debate. Usually, those bills also get stuck in committee, but House Minority Leader Todd Rutherford managed to get it out last week without a vote.
It was promptly returned to committee on a 79-34 vote Tuesday with no debate.
Supporters said the bill was necessary for people like the police chief in Latta. The mayor in the small Dillon County town of about 1,100 people fired Crystal Moore because of her sexual orientation.
"Across the state, people said you can't do that. That is against the law. That doesn't reflect who we are as South Carolinians," said Rep. James Smith, D-Columbia. "Well, the sad fact is you can, and it needs to stop."
After Moore was fired, the town became angry, and the mayor was stripped of his power and she was hired back.
Ayers and other advocates say they are surprised and pleased that the judiciary committees in both the House and Senate have not taken up any of the bill they track as being anti-gay. One bill would have called for a convention to take up an amendment to the U.S. Constitution saying marriage is just between one man and one woman. Others would have allowed a clerk of court to refuse to issue marriage licenses to gay couples without penalty if issuing it would violate religious beliefs.
Ayers said he thinks it is just a pause in the fight instead of a big shift in attitudes in South Carolina.
"We're going to see a bombardment of more bills — if the (U.S.) Supreme Court rules in favor of marriage equality in June, you're going to see the backlash even more in January 2016 in this building," Ayers said.