Judge declares lesbian relationship a ‘common-law marriage’

Posted on 16 Sep 2015 at 12:57pm

Sonemaly Phrasavath, right, and her wife, Stella Powell

A Travis County probate judge has ended a year-long battle between an Austin woman and the family of her late partner by accepting a settlement agreement yesterday — Tuesday, Sept. 15 — acknowledging that Sonemaly Phrasavath and Stella Powell were in a common-law marriage, according to an article in the Austin American-Statesman.

Phrasavath and Powell had been together for eight years and had had a union ceremony — not legally recognized as marriage at the time — when Powell died of Cancer in June 2014. A hearing has been set for Oct. 5 to formally declare Phravasath to be Powell’s heir due to marriage. It is the first time in Texas history, lawyers said, that a same-sex couple has been deemed to have a common-law marriage.

Probate Judge Guy Herman accepted the settlement —  which divides Powell’s estate roughly in half between Phravasath and Powell’s other family members and which establishes the two women’s relationship as a common-law marriage — over the objections of Texas’ anti-gay Attorney General Ken Paxton, the same guy who promised Texas county clerks that they wouldn’t have to issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples if they had personal religious objections to marriage equality.

Lawyers representing Paxton and the AG’s office had argued in Herman’s court that the settlement assets was a done deal and negated the need to recognize the two women’s relationship as a common-law marriage. But Phrasavath’s attorney, Brian Thompson, told Judge Herman that his client would settle for nothing less that recognition of their relationship as a marriage.

The Austin newspaper, in an article by Chuck Lindell, quoted Thompson as saying, “How many more courts have to tell Ken Paxton that these statutes [banning recognition of marriage equality] are unconstitutional?” He then answered his own question: “One more.”

Herman also granted Thompson’s motion to remove Paxton from the lawsuit. In making the motion, Thompson said, “The denial of my client’s fundamental right to marry needs to end today, and Ken Paxton’s groundless, harassing and mean-spirited attacks on same-sex couples needs to end today. The only reason the state is attempting to continue to interfere in this case is because Som and Stella were a same-sex couple, and Ken Paxton can’t live with the fact.”

A spokeswoman in Paxton’s office said the AG is evaluation its options to challenge Herman’s ruling, which, she said, could create confusion by potentially reopening already finalized probate cases.

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