Applying Same Sex Ruling to a 40-Year Old Relationship

A judge in South Carolina has ruled that a same sex couple were married at common law for almost 30 years.

Everyone remembers when the US Supreme Court issued its landmark ruling in Obergefell v. Hodges, Case No. 14–556 (U.S. Sup. Ct. June 26, 2015), in which SCOTUS accorded to same sex relationships the same status accorded to heterosexual unions. Ruling in the wake of Obergefell, Family Court Judge Thomas White ruled that two women who had maintained a monogamous relationship over nearly four decades and had called themselves married even to disapproving family members had become married at common law. You can read more about it in the Rock Hill Herald.

White reached his decision despite the illegality of the couple’s relationship over most of its life. “The law established by the U.S. Supreme Court in Obergefell should be applied retroactively in South Carolina,” he said in his opinion. Several family law experts quoted in the Herald article seem to agree on four things about Judge White’s ruling: (1) it’s new; (2) it’s important; (3) it’s correctly reasoned and decided; and (4) it’s almost sure to be challenged on appeal.

“I want people in my situation to know they do have rights, and can get help,” the Herald quotes Parks as saying. “We were married.”

South Carolina is one of eight states that still recognize common law marriage, a marriage that forms automatically even without the exchange of marriage vows when both spouses intend to be married. Alabama recognized common law marriage until 2017 and still recognizes it for marriages formed before 2017.



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