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Texas Lawman Loses to Lesbian: Judge Recognizes Her Common Law Marriage

Texas Lawman Loses to Lesbian: Judge Recognizes Her Common Law Marriage

Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton
Getty

Over the objections of the Texas attorney general, a probate judge in Texas has recognized a lesbian's common law marriage to her deceased wife.

When Sonemaly Phrasavath and Stella Powell met in 2004, they had no idea their relationship would make history in the Lone Star state. The couple were married in Texas in 2008, long before the Supreme Court's ruling in favor of marriage equality, which forced the state to recognize same-sex marriages.

And this week a probate judge in Travis County, Texas, issued a historic ruling of his own, recognizing the first common law marriage between two women, and removing interloper and state attorney general Ken Paxton from the case, according to the Houston Chronicle.

Powell died of colon cancer in 2014, forcing Phrasavath to battle with her wife's family over her estate and begin a fight for her marriage to be recognized as valid in Texas.

Citing Texas law concerning common law marriages and armed with the Supreme Court ruling, Phrasavath finally settled her case with the family on September 10.

The case was presented to Judge Guy Herman for his approval, and he did so on Tuesday.

Phrasavath won the right to have her longtime relationship recognized by the state, over the objections of the attorney general. Paxton had argued that the ruling could lead to "confusion by potentially leading to the reopening of past probate cases long finalized, in the process creating new conflicts between families and surviving domestic partners," according to spokeswoman Cynthia Meyer.

University of Texas professor and family law expert John Sampson disagreed. He argued that once probate cases are closed, they don't get reponed very often. ""If it's a final, unappealed decision in any context ... the litigants are bound and the litigants can't reopen it," he told the Houston Chronicle.

Brian Thompson, Phrasavath's attorney, pointed out that Paxton's history of opposing LGBT rights should shed light on his decision to oppose the settlement and subsequent recognition of gay and lesbian common law marriages.

"The state of Texas, and in particular Ken Paxton, would have absolutely no interest in this case if it were one of the thousands of cases in Texas, thousands of heirship proceedings, except for the fact that it's a same-sex couple, and that's discrimination," he said. "This is just part of his continuing disregard for the most fundamental concepts of American jurisprudence."

Paxton, a former Republican state legislator, was indicted by a grand jury in August on multiple securities fraud charges and failing to register with the state's securities board after allegations he misled investors. The most serious charges, two first degree felonies, can result in a sentence of five to 99 years in prison for each count.

As a freshman legislator in 2003, Paxton voted to amend the state securities law to make it a felony to act as an investment advisor without registering with the state - the same law he is accused of violating.

His office reportedly is now mulling options to appeal the judge's ruling.

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