Common Law Same-Sex Marriage

18 Pages Posted: 25 Jun 2010 Last revised: 7 Feb 2016

See all articles by Peter Nicolas

Peter Nicolas

University of Washington School of Law

Date Written: June 24, 2010


In this manuscript, I demonstrate that, with the extension of the right to marry to same-sex couples in Iowa, the District of Columbia, and New Hampshire (all states that recognize common law marriage), there now exists the possibility that – for the first time in the United States – a same-sex couple may enter into a legally recognized common law marriage.

In the manuscript, I first show, as a doctrinal matter, that same-sex couples have the right to enter into common law marriages in each of these jurisdictions, and I explain and compare the criteria for entering into common law marriages in each of them. I then address the question whether it makes sense, as a policy matter, to expand the concept of common law marriage to include same-sex couples, including an analysis of whether being a closeted same-sex couple is consistent with being in a common law marriage. I conclude that the lack of consistent access to religious and public officials willing to perform same-sex marriages coupled with the libertarian spirit underlying both same-sex marriage and common law marriage militate in favor of recognizing common law same-sex marriages. I also demonstrate the advantages that common law marriage – with its lack of a paper trail – provides to same-sex couples who need to keep their relationships closeted, such as those in the military or foreign nationals with temporary visas.

Keywords: same-sex marriage, gay marriage, homosexual marriage, common law marriage, same-sex common law marriage, gay, homosexual, same-sex, GLBT, LGBT

Suggested Citation

Nicolas, Peter, Common Law Same-Sex Marriage (June 24, 2010). Connecticut Law Review, Vol. 43, No. 3, p. 931-947, 2011, University of Washington School of Law Research Paper No. 2011-11, Available at SSRN:

Peter Nicolas (Contact Author)

University of Washington School of Law ( email )

William H. Gates Hall
Box 353020
Seattle, WA 98105-3020
United States


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