South Carolina DMV being sued for denying driver’s licenses to three people who married same-sex partners

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South Carolina’s Department of Motor Vehicles is now being sued by three people who were denied driver’s licenses after marrying someone of the same sex.

The plaintiffs in the lawsuit, which was filed in US District Court in Greenville on October 31, are accusing the state’s DMV of violating their constitutional rights by denying them licenses.

One of the plaintiffs, Judith Haas of Greenville, married in Massachusetts in 2013 and was denied a license by the Fountain Inn DMV after she presented her marriage license and her updated Social Security card with her new name. According to the official complaint, “Haas took her marriage certificate and her new Social Security card to the DMV office in Fountain Inn, South Carolina to record her name change as is required by statute.

“The clerk at the SCDMV office rudely refused to issue record the name change on Plaintiff Haas’ driver’s license. She was told that she needed to go to court and a court might let her change her name. She was specifically instructed that she must marry a man to change her name at the SCDMV.”

Brandon Velez married his husband in New York in 2013. He applied for a driver’s license at the West Ashley DMV near Charleston, but only hours after it was granted the office called him back and ordered him to return it, or else his driving privileges would be revoked. He was issued a license with his previous name, but the complaint notes, “His ability to travel, seek public benefits, change employment and vote has been put in jeopardy.”

Damari Indart of Greenwood, who married in Connecticut in 2009, lived with her wife in Florida at the time, and Indart applied for and was issued a driver’s license with her married name. After the couple moved to South Carolina in 2013, Indart was denied a license at the DMV’s offices in Fountain Inn, Greenwood, and Greenville.

The official complaint states Indart “presented her Social Security Card and her marriage license as proof of her identity. She also presented her valid driver’s license from Florida in her chosen name. All three locations refused her application. At each location she was told that her marriage license was not evidence of her name change and that her name must match her Social Security number. She was told that she could apply for a license under her prior name of Crespo, but only if her Social Security documentation matched that name.

“Out of frustration, Plaintiff Indart returned to the Social Security Administration to ask if she could return to her prior name. Because the federal government does recognize her marriage and the name change on her marriage license, she was informed that she could only change her name if she got a divorce or a court order.”

Attorney Malissa Burnette, who is a legal representative for the plaintiffs in two South Carolina cases, said “The cases just keep piling up…This is completely punitive and nonsensical,” according to Greenville Online.

The Greenville case is the fourth pending legal challenge regarding South Carolina’s ban on marriage equality. Another was filed with the federal court in Charleston, and two more with the federal court in Columbia.

In all four cases, the attorneys are pointing out that earlier in 2014, the 4th Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that marriage is a fundamental right, and denying it based on gender violates the US Constitution. South Carolina is under that court’s jurisdiction, and the Supreme Court’s historic decision on October 6 effectively upheld the authority of federal appeals courts to overturn state laws.

The ruling cleared the way for marriage equality in eleven states, including South Carolina, but attorney general Alan Wilson has said that he intends to keep fighting for the state’s ban on marriage equality until a court specifically overrules it.

In September 2014, the family of Chase Culpepper, a gender non-conforming teenager, filed a federal lawsuit against South Carolina’s Department of Motor Vehicles for demanding that Culpepper remove his makeup and “look like a boy” for his driver’s license photo.

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