So...Are You Married?
By Janet VanderZanden and Christine Henry Andresen
Texas is one of only a handful of states that recognizes informal marriages, usually called common-law marriages. Texas law provides that a couple obtains informal marriage status if they 1) agree to be married, 2) hold themselves out to be married, and 3) live together as spouses. But the text of the statute says that the parties seeking informal marriage status must be a “man” and a “woman.”
But on the same day that the United States Supreme Court recognized equality for same-sex marriages in Obergefell v. Hodges, a federal court in the Eastern District of Texas (Beaumont), found that the equivalent equal protection considerations also apply to Texas same-sex common-law marriages as well.
In Ranolls v. Dewling et al. (Civil Action No. 1:15-cv-111), the widow of a woman killed in a trucking accident was granted standing to assert a wrongful death claim as the surviving spouse of a same-sex informal marriage. The holding recognized that prior to the accident the women were involved in a relationship that met the statutory requirements of an informal marriage, absent the distinguishing characteristics of “man” and “woman.”
This application of the equal rights provision lauded by Obergefell is another step in the direction of treating all relationships and marriages (even informal ones) equally.
Update from CHA, 12/18/2017: This case later went up to the appellate level, and there is a published opinion on point: Ranolls v. Dewling, F. Supp. 3d 613 (E.D. Texas 2016).