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to Section One | to Arts & Entertainment
posted Friday, January 1, 2016 - Volume 44 Issue 01
Utah judge recognizes same-sex common-law marriage
Section One
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Utah judge recognizes same-sex common-law marriage

by Mike Andrew - SGN Staff Writer

A Utah state judge has ruled that an eight-year Lesbian relationship is a common-law marriage. This is reportedly the first time a same-sex common-law marriage has been recognized by Utah courts.

The ruling by Judge Ernest Jones came in a case involving Nicki Bidlack and her two-year-old son. Bidlack wanted her late wife, Sara Clow, listed as one of the boy's mothers on his birth certificate.

Bidlack and Clow had been together for eight years and had adopted their child, when Clow was killed in an auto accident on September 13, 2014.

Although Clow was the biological mother of the boy, she was not listed on his birth certificate because she died shortly after his birth. The judge's ruling now allows Clow to be listed on the birth certificate as well.

'This is what she would have wanted,' said Bidlack told the Salt Lake Tribune. 'She wanted him from before he was born. To have her name on it... to have him see her name, even though she's not here... she would be so happy.'

Jones' ruling will also allow Bidlack to access spousal benefits for the couple's son. Because Bidlack and Clow were legally prevented from marrying in Utah when Clow died, her estate and death benefits were out of reach, even for the couple's son.

'I feel like he's been denied things that any other child would have had,' Bidlack said.

Christopher Wharton, a family law attorney who has been a longtime advocate for LGBT rights, represented Bidlack. He filed a suit seeking legal recognition of Bidlack and Clow's common-law marriage in February 2015.

'I was convinced that there was enough legal precedent out there that this was a 14th Amendment right being denied,' he said.

Utah is one of eight states that recognize common-law marriage, or unions between two people who have not obtained a marriage license or solemnized their relationship through some other ceremony.

When written, the Utah common-law statute was like all other state laws related to marriage. In other words, it applied specifically to relationships between men and women.

But in the wake of the 2013 federal court ruling that found Utah's law ban on same-sex marriage unconstitutional, Wharton believed the finding would apply equally in the case of a common-law union.

'If the state is going to expand on who qualifies for marriage, then they have to open that door here as well,' he said.

Bidlack's case was also strengthened by a 2014 Utah Supreme Court decision that said that common-law status could be conferred posthumously if the claim was raised within one year.

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