Gay Marriage

Common Law Marriage Invoked in Gay Couple's Inheritance Case

A new use of an old legal principle

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WASHINGTON—A gay man locked in an inheritance dispute is asking a District of Columbia court to declare him the common-law husband of his late companion, opening a new front in the struggle over same-sex marriage.

The district has been issuing marriage licenses to same-sex couples since March 2010, but Michael Kelly and James Spellman never obtained one. Mr. Spellman says the pair lived together from 1995 until Mr. Kelly died in February.

In June, the executor of Mr. Kelly's estate denied Mr. Spellman the share he would be able to claim as a surviving spouse, prompting what may be the first case of its kind: a lawsuit seeking legal recognition of a common-law gay marriage.