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to Section One | to Arts & Entertainment
posted Friday, October 16, 2015 - Volume 43 Issue 42
Texas court recognizes same-sex common law marriage
Section One
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Texas court recognizes same-sex common law marriage

by Mike Andrew - SGN Staff Writer

For the first time, a Texas court has recognized a same-sex common law marriage.

In orders signed October 5, Travis County Probate Judge Guy Herman ruled that Stella Powell and her partner Sonemaly Phrasavath met the legal requirements to be considered married under Texas law.

Powell died last year, and her siblings filed suit to have her considered single because at the time of her death she could not have legally married her partner, Phrasavath. On the other hand, Phrasavath sued to be recognized as Powell's common law wife.

Common law marriage - sometimes called 'informal marriage' - results from agreement between the partners that they are married, even if they do not obtain a legal marriage license or have a ceremony.

Common law marriages are recognized in Texas, eight other states, and the District of Columbia, but not in Washington state. New Hampshire recognizes common law marriage for probate purposes only.

Under Texas law, courts can recognize a common law marriage if a couple agrees that they are married, lives together, and presents themselves as being married, for example introducing each other as a spouse.

Phrasavath argued that she and Powell met the legal requirements, since they began dating in 2006 and celebrated a 2008 marriage ceremony performed by a Zen Buddhist priest. Although that ceremony was not valid at the time under Texas law, they subsequently lived openly as spouses in their Austin home, she said.

'The goal here was always to have Som and Stella treated like any other couple,' said Brian Thompson, lawyer for Phrasavath. 'And now we know that other same-sex couples are going to be treated equally, not just in Travis County but now I think we have precedent for the state of Texas.'

Republican State Attorney General Ken Paxton opposed Prasavath's claims, arguing that her relationship with Powell ended before the U.S. Supreme Court's Obergefell ruling that legalized same-sex marriages. Judge Herman rejected Paxton's arguments and removed him from the case last month.

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