Pennsylvania rules to recognize some common-law gay marriages

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A Pennsylvania state appeals court has ruled that a same-sex couple had a legitimate common-law union years before same-sex marriages became legal. The ruling found that denying common-law marriage status to a couple would be a violation of their constitutional rights.

Michael Hunter lost his partner Stephen Carter in an April 2013 motorcycle accident, less than two months before the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in favor of legalizing same-sex marriages. The state of Pennsylvania officially recognized gay marriages in May 2013. The appeals court ruling makes it possible for Hunter to have the same legal rights as a married couple, including shared property rights and entitlement to benefits any other widow or widower would have had upon the death of a spouse. It also allows recognition of other same-sex marriages that were entered into before Pennsylvania abolished common-law marriage in January 2005.

Hunter took his case to the appeals court after Beaver County President Judge John D. McBride refused an order to recognize his common-law union with Carter. McBride’s ruling found that same-sex couples couldn’t legitimize their union, as same-sex marriage was not legal in the state of Pennsylvania.