Originally created 07/11/01

Couples dispute marriage license fee increase



AIKEN - Tying the knot in South Carolina is about to become a little more expensive.

With the signature of Gov. Jim Hodges expected on the legislation, couples will have to pay an extra $20 to get married. It is a controversial fee that will help fund 13 domestic violence shelters in the state, including the Cumbee Center to Assist Abused Persons in Aiken. Nearly $1 million a year is expected to be raised for shelters.

Once signed into law, the legislation will immediately increase the marriage license fee in Aiken County from $25 to $45. Barnwell County will go up from $12 to $32, and Edgefield County will go up from $15 to $35. Currently, marriage license fees pay only for administrative costs.

LaKisha Kitchings, of Aiken, said she doesn't believe the fee is fair. She married in May and avoided the higher fee, but her friends are marrying in August and would pay $20 more.

"The fee should come from people who commit domestic violence. Don't penalize people that are just getting married," she said.

Staci White, also of Aiken, plans a July 19 wedding and would be subject to the new fee. She doesn't like the idea of couples who are getting married paying for domestic violence shelters.

"No, because they married each other and they need to deal with fighting on their own," she said.

State Rep. Edie Rodgers, R-Beaufort, was the primary sponsor of the bill, stealing the idea from North Carolina, where the fee helped increase the number of shelters from 17 to 76 in the past decade.

South Carolina was ranked No. 1 in the rate of women killed by men, according to the nonprofit Violence Policy Center.

"We are a state with more animal shelters than shelters for abused women and children, and it seemed like pretty easy and harmless way to raise the money to provide more shelters and expand the ones we have," Ms. Rodgers said. "We are not by any means saying that everyone who gets married is going to abuse or be abused, but that is primarily where the cases come from. So why not establish a fund with these marriage licenses?"

State Rep. Robert S. "Skipper" Perry, R-Aiken, said he doesn't like the concept or the funding source.

"A couple goes in to get married, and the attitude is, 'Honey, he's going to probably beat you up, so he's got to pay ahead of time a fee to do it.' I think this a wrong way to fund domestic violence," he said. "I think it should come out of the general fund budget and not be subjected to marriage license and not start a marriage off on the wrong foot."

Still, Mr. Perry said he is not sure whether he voted for or against the additional fee.

"I probably voted for it because that was the only way we could get it funded, but I probably did it while holding my nose," he said.

Mr. Hodges is not expected to veto the measure.

"He's still reviewing that legislation," the governor's spokeswoman, Cortney Owings, said. "The governor has supported the bill and the idea behind this bill; however, he has not had a chance to read the entire legislation."

Reach Greg Rickabaugh at (803) 279-6895 or greg.rickabaugh@augustachronicle.com.