Utah judge rules for recognition of same-sex common-law marriage

A Utah judge has amended a birth certificate in a historic court ruling that gives legal recognition of a same-sex common-law marriage between an Ogden woman and her late partner.

Nicki Bidlack and Sara Clow were together for eight years until Clow died suddenly in September 2014 of injuries sustained in a car accident on Interstate 15.

Same-sex marriage became legal in Utah in December 2013, but was suspended pending legal review between January and October 2014. The two women had not married.

Since her partner’s death, Bidlack has been fighting to have to the state recognize her common law marriage to Clow. She and Clow were mothers to a son, now two years old, and she wanted both women to be listed as the boy’s parents on his birth certificate. Unless she could get his birth certificate amended, he would have no claim over Clow’s estate or death benefits, despite being her biological child.

‘This is what she would have wanted,” an emotional Bidlack, 41, 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.”

“I feel like he’s been denied things that any other child would have had,” Bidlack continued.

The amended birth certificate was issued Dec. 4 by Second District Judge Ernest Jones. His decision is believed to be the first recognizing a common law marriage between two people of the same sex in Utah.

Bidlack was helped in her fight by family law attorney Christopher Wharton, who said, “I was convinced that there was enough legal precedent out there that this was a 14th Amendment right being denied.”

Wharton filed the motion in February, where he outlined three elements proving common-law marriage: mutual emotional and financial dependency, cohabitation, and that the couple had held themselves out to others as married.

Bidlack’s case is fairly unique – chiefly because Utah is one of only eight states in the U.S. that legally recognizes common law marriages and Clow’s death came just months after same-sex marriage arrived in Utah. Also, any claim to recognize a common law marriage posthumously must be made within 12 months of one partner’s death.

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