interracial marriageRecent events have forced Texas and other states to change how the law looks at marriage. There is a lot of debate among Americans as to the relation between the legal definition of marriage and the religious definition of marriage. The U.S. Supreme Court’s decision in Obergefell changes nothing about the definition of marriage that religious institutions decide applies within their organizations. The decision does change the application of the government’s definition of marriage.

In some European and Latin American countries, the civil ceremony and religious ceremony must be held separately. In the U.S., civil marriages may be a part of religious ceremonies and held at the same time, but they are distinct and separate.

Many religious institutions have a static definition of marriage that does not match the legal definition. For example, the Catholic Church does not allow interfaith marriages and does not recognize divorce, so second marriages are not approved unless the former spouse died. Islam allows a man to have multiple wives; Judaism allows only one man and one woman to marry. Both Islam and Judaism believe that marriage lasts beyond death, so do not recognize divorce. Protestants generally believe that marriage is for the love between a man and woman. Buddhism does not have religious rules for marriage and allow people to follow the civil laws where they live.

In the United States, governments undertake to regulate marriage by providing certain rules and rights to married people under the law. For example, most states provide a minimum age limit to get married and limit the number of people to the marriages. Some states allow for common law marriages and other states do not. Some states provide restrictions on the familial relations that are permitted to marry.

Other governmental regulations by US States on marriage have changed over time. One law that existed regarding marriage that came under fire in the late 1960’s involved laws that prohibited couples of different races from getting married. These laws were declared unconstitutional in 1967 in the case of Loving v. Virginia, 288 U.S. 1 (1967).

Likewise, many states had “head and master” laws that prohibited married women from owning property. The husband could buy, sell and encumber property without the knowledge or consent of the wife. In 1981, the U.S. Supreme Court declared these marriage laws unconstitutional in Kirchberg v. Feenstra, 450 U.S. 455 (1981). In Texas, until the Marital Property Act of 1967, women were required to get a husband’s signature just to file a legal document. Louise Raggio, a Texas attorney and trail blazer for women’s rights sums up the situation of a woman at the altar in Texas: “When a man and woman got married, they were one, and he was the one.” The passing of the Marital Property Act, largely pushed ahead by Mrs. Raggio, gave women in Texas equal rights to their husbands, eliminating years of legal discrimination to married Texas women.

Now, most recently, the definition of marriage has changed once again. The Obergefell decision extends the right to civil marriage to same-sex couples, giving same-sex couples equal rights under the law as heteroseuxals. Now, states cannot deny a same-sex couple the right to marry that is extended to heterosexual couples. This is not the first time in U.S. history that the legal definition of marriage has changed. As the values of society change, the laws of society must change. And, for same-sex couples, that change has arrived.

Now, instead of distinguishing between heterosexual marriage and same-sex marriage — it is just marriage.

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Photo of Michelle O'Neil Michelle O'Neil

Michelle May O’Neil has 27 years’ experience representing small business owners, professionals, and individuals in litigation related to family law matters such as divorce, child custody, and complex property division. Described by one lawyer as “a lethal combination of sweet-and-salty”, Ms. O’Neil exudes…

Michelle May O’Neil has 27 years’ experience representing small business owners, professionals, and individuals in litigation related to family law matters such as divorce, child custody, and complex property division. Described by one lawyer as “a lethal combination of sweet-and-salty”, Ms. O’Neil exudes genuine compassion for her client’s difficulties, yet she can be relentless when in pursuit of a client’s goals. One judge said of Ms. O’Neil, “She cannot be out-gunned, out-briefed, or out-lawyered!”

Family Law Specialist

Ms. O’Neil became a board-certified family law specialist by the Texas Board of Legal Specialization in 1997 and has maintained her certification since that time. While representing clients in litigation before the trial court is an important part of her practice, Ms. O’Neil also handles appellate matters in the trial court, courts of appeals and Texas Supreme Court. Lawyers frequently consult with Ms. O’Neil on their litigation cases about specialized legal issues requiring particularized attention both at the trial court and appellate levels. This gives her a unique perspective and depth of perception that benefits both her litigation and appellate clients.

Top Lawyers in Texas and America

Ms. O’Neil has been named to the list of Texas SuperLawyers for many years, 2011-2018, a peer-voted honor given to only about 5% of the lawyers in the state of Texas. In 2014-2018, Ms. O’Neil received the special honor of being named by Texas SuperLawyers as one of the Top 50 Women Lawyers in Texas, Top 100 Lawyers in Texas, and Top 100 Lawyers in DFW. She was named one of the Best Lawyers in America for 2016 and received an “A-V” peer review rating by Martindale-Hubbell Legal Directories for the highest quality legal ability and ethical standards.

Author and Speaker

A noted author, Ms. O’Neil released her second book Basics of Texas Divorce Law in November 2010, with a second edition released in 2013, and a third edition expected in 2015.  Her first book, All About Texas Law and Kids, was published in September 2009 by Texas Lawyer Press. In 2012, Ms. O’Neil co-authored the booklets What You Need To Know About Common Law Marriage In Texas and Social Study Evaluations.  The State Bar of Texas and other providers of continuing education for attorneys frequently enlist Ms. O’Neil to provide instruction to attorneys on topics of her expertise in the family law arena.