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By Chuck Lindell, Austin American-Statesman (TNS)

AUSTIN, Texas — Travis County Probate Judge Guy Herman ruled Tuesday that the Texas ban on same-sex marriage was unconstitutional, but the county will not issue marriage licenses to gay couples, at least for now.

Herman ruled as part of an estate fight in which Austin resident Sonemaly Phrasavath sought to have her eight-year relationship to Stella Powell deemed to have been a common-law marriage. Powell died last summer of colon cancer.

Travis County Clerk Dana DeBeauvoir said she will be conferring with Herman and county lawyers to determine the impact of the ruling.

“I am scrambling, trying to find out if there is anything I can do. Right now, I think it’s no, but we are checking,” said DeBeauvoir, who in the past has said that she is ready to begin distributing marriage licenses to same-sex couples as soon as allowed by the courts.

The lawyer for the siblings who opposed Phrasavath’s claim said no decision has been made on whether to appeal.

Attorney General Ken Paxton declined an offer to be party to the case and thus is not in a position to appeal.

Herman’s ruling came after an hourlong hearing in the Travis County Courthouse. Phrasavath challenged the constitutionality of the prohibition on gay marriage as a first step toward establishing her relationship as a common-law marriage.

Phrasavath and Powell began living together in Austin shortly after Phrasavath proposed in 2007, leading to a marriage ceremony that, though not recognized under Texas law, was performed one year later by a Zen priest in Driftwood southwest of Austin.

Travis County courts became involved after Powell died without a valid will in June, eight months after she was diagnosed with colon cancer, leading to a legal fight over her estate between Phrasavath and two of Powell’s siblings.

Photo: Bill & Heather Jones via Flickr

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