Groundbreaking New CaseIn South Carolina, Debra Parks wanted to be treated the same as anybody else. She wanted her relationship, which ended last year, to be considered a common-law marriage under South Carolina law. Parks is gay. But until 2014, same-sex marriage was illegal.
In a groundbreaking case for South Carolina, a Family Court judge has ruled that Parks and her former partner had a common-law marriage under state law. And the state must recognize that their common-law marriage has been legal for almost 30 years, the judge ruled.The ruling means same-sex couples now have the same retroactive rights as heterosexual married couples, experts say. Those rights include alimony, health insurance, taxes, the division of property and others. I’ve written about same-sex relationships before. The South Carolina ruling immediately becomes a legal precedent, and has the potential to impact thousands of people in same sex relationships because it backdates the period of effect to the beginning of the common-law marriage.
‘A rose by any other name would smell as sweet,’” the judge wrote. “The law established by the U.S. Supreme Court in Obergefell should be applied retroactively in South Carolina.”
Florida Common Law MarriagesSouth Carolina is one of eight states that recognize common law marriage. The case is important because same sex marriages were not recognized until 2014 and left an entire group of people “out in the cold” without the protections the law provides to heterosexual couples.
Florida law is different. No common-law marriage entered into after January 1, 1968, is valid in Florida.The South Carolina case could create a conflict between Florida Statutes – which makes common law marriages in Florida void as of 1968, the Parks case, which recognizes the creation of same-sex, common law marriages in South Carolina. The order states that Parks’ common law marriage is retroactive to the time when Parks divorced her husband while already living with her same sex partner. The larger question for interstate actions is whether Florida would give full faith and credit to the South Carolina judgment.