|Legal recognition of
|Performed in some jurisdictions|
|Recognized, not performed|
|Civil unions and
|Performed in some jurisdictions|
|In some regions|
|Jurisdictions with current or recent debates on SSUs|
A civil union is a legally recognized union similar to marriage. Beginning with Denmark in 1989, civil unions under one name or another have been established by law in many developed countries in order to provide same-sex couples with rights, benefits, and responsibilities similar (in some countries, identical) to opposite-sex civil marriage. In some jurisdictions, such as Quebec, New Zealand, and Uruguay, civil unions are also open to opposite-sex couples.
Supporters of civil unions contend that civil unions grant same-sex couples equal rights to married couples. Some commentators, such as Ian Ayres, are critical of civil unions because they say they represent a separate status unequal to marriage. Others, such as Robert Knight, are critical because they say civil unions endow the same rights and privileges of heterosexual marriages — alleging that they allow same-sex marriage by using a different name.
The terms used to designate recognized same-sex unions are not standardized, and vary widely from country to country. Government-sanctioned relationships that may be similar or equivalent to civil unions include civil partnerships, registered partnerships, domestic partnerships, significant relationships, reciprocal beneficiary relationships, common-law marriage, adult interdependent relationships, life partnerships, stable unions, civil solidarity pacts, and so on. The exact level of rights, benefits, obligations, and responsibilities also varies, depending on the laws of a particular country. Some jurisdictions allow same-sex couples to adopt, while others forbid them to do so, or allow adoption only in specified circumstances.
As used in the United States, beginning with the state of Vermont in 2000, the term civil union has connoted a status equivalent to marriage for same-sex couples; domestic partnership, offered by some states, counties, cities, and employers since as early as 1985, has generally connoted a lesser status with fewer benefits. However, the legislatures of the West Coast states of California, Oregon and Washington have preferred the term domestic partnership for enactments similar or equivalent to civil union laws in East Coast states.
Civil unions are not seen as a replacement for marriage by many in the gay community. "Marriage in the United States is a civil union; but a civil union, as it has come to be called, is not marriage," said Evan Wolfson of Freedom to Marry. "It is a proposed hypothetical legal mechanism, since it doesn’t exist in most places, to give some of the protections but also withhold something precious from gay people. There’s no good reason to do that." However, some supporters of traditional marriage view the matter differently; Randy Thomasson, Executive Director of the Campaign for California Families, calls civil unions “homosexual marriage by another name” and contends that civil unions provide same-sex couples “all the rights of marriage available under state law.” The California Supreme Court, in the In Re Marriage Cases decision, noted nine differences in state law.
From 2003 the Argentine province of Rio Negro and the city of Buenos Aires allow domestic partnerships. The City of Villa Carlos Paz (Córdoba) allowed it from 2007. And since 2009 the city of Río Cuarto (Córdoba) allows Civil Unions too.
Since 13 August 2004 (after assent) under the Marriage Amendment Act 2004 (Commonwealth law) which amended the Marriage Act 1961, the Australian Government has banned same-sex marriages from being performed or recognised here and overseas at a Commonwealth level .
All levels of Australian Governments under nearly all Australian statutes do recognise same-sex couples as de facto couples as unregistered co-habitation or de facto status since 2009 . From 1 July 2009 Centrelink will recognise same-sex couples equally regarding social security - under the common-law marriage, de facto status or unregistered cohabitation .
Registered partnership recognition in state Governments:
Registered partnership recognition in local governments:
The Brazilian state of Rio Grande do Sul legalised civil unions after a court decision in March 2004. Same-sex couples in committed relationships can register at any notary public office. Although it does not affect federal rights, it gives same-sex couples more equality in many areas. Same-sex couples who register have the right to jointly own property, establish custody of children, and claim the right to pensions and property when one partner dies.
Brazil– (2002) case law was made that a partnership solemnized in France was deemed legal in Brazil for immigration purposes; also the surviving long-time partner of the late Cassia Eller was awarded child custody and inheritance rights based on their partnership. The Brazilian government, on June 8, 2000, extended de facto legal recognition to same-sex relationships by granting such couples the right to inherit each other’s pension and social security benefits. Property rights (1998): The Brazilian High Court decided February 11, 1998, to grant property rights to surviving partner of gay relationship. Businessman Milton Alves Pedrosa, from Belo Horizonte capital of the Brazilian state of Minas Gerais, won by unanimous decision of the Brazilian High Court the right to half of the estate of his partner who died of AIDS in 1989.
were extended to same-sex couples before the enactment (2005) nationwide of same-sex marriage in Canada. Between June 2003 and June 2005, courts in eight provinces and one territory of Canada extended marriage to include same-sex couples.
In 2007, Colombia came close to passing a law granting legal recognition to same-sex couples, but the bill failed on final passage in one house of the national legislature. However, a court decision in October 2007 extended social security and health insurance rights to same-sex couples. On January 29, 2009, the Constitutional Court ruled that cohabitating same-sex couples must be given all rights offered to unmarried heterosexual couples. Making Colombia the first Latin American country to fully grant this right to all its citizens. Couples can claim these rights after living together for two years.
Civil unions were introduced in Denmark by law on June 7, 1989, the world's first such law. It has the name of a registered partnership (Danish: "registreret partnerskab"), but has almost all the same qualities as marriage. It provides all the same legal and fiscal rights and obligations that come with a heterosexual marriage, with four exceptions:
Registered partnership is by civil ceremony only. The Church of Denmark has yet to decide how to handle the issue, but the general attitude of the church seems positive but hesitant. Some priests perform blessings of gay couples, and this is accepted by the church, which states that the church blesses people, not institutions.
Divorce for registered partners follows the same rules as ordinary divorces.
Only citizens of Denmark, Finland, Sweden, Norway and Iceland can enter into a registered partnership in Denmark. This list is adjusted whenever a new country legalizes same-sex unions. This rule excludes foreigners from gaining a registered partnership status that would not be legally recognised in their home country or state.
As of January 1, 2002, there were more than 2,000 registered partnerships in Denmark, of which 220 had children.
The 2008 Constitution of Ecuador enacted civil unions between two people without regard to gender, giving homosexual couples the same rights as legally married heterosexual couples except for the right to adopt.
The French law providing benefits to same-sex couples also applies to opposite-sex couples who choose this form of partnership over marriage. Known as the "Pacte civil de solidarité" (PACS), it is more easily dissolved than the divorce process applying to marriage. Tax benefits accrue immediately (only from 2007 on *Ref), while immigration benefits accrue only after the contract has been in effect for one year. The partners are required to have a common address, making it difficult for foreigners to use this law as a means to a residence permit, and difficult for French citizens to gain the right to live with a foreign partner - especially since the contract does not automatically give immigration rights, as does marriage.
Israel (1994 as common-law marriage; 2006 as recognition of foreign marriage)
On 9 November 2006, Mexico City's unicameral Legislative Assembly passed and approved (43-17) a bill legalizing same-sex civil unions, under the name Ley de Sociedades de Convivencia (Law for Co-existence Partnerships), which became effective in 16 March 2007. The law recognizes property and inheritance rights to same-sex couples. On 11 January 2007, the northern state of Coahuila, which borders Texas, passed a similar bill (20-13), under the name Pacto Civil de Solidaridad (Civil Pact of Solidarity). Unlike Mexico City's law, once same-sex couples have registered in Coahuila, the state protects their rights no matter where they live in the country. Twenty days after the law had passed, the country's first same-sex civil union took place in Saltillo, Coahuila. Civil unions have been proposed in at least six states since 2006.
On 21 December 2009, Mexico City's Legislative Assembly legalized (39-20) same-sex marriages and adoption by same-sex couples. Eight days later, the law was enacted and became effective in March 2010.> In January 2010, in the northwestern state of Sonora, a same-sex marriage bill has been proposed. In the western state of Michoacán, the Party of the Democratic Revolution (PRD) has announced it will propose bills concerning civil unions, same-sex marriage and adoption by same-sex couples in 2010. In neighboring Colima, governor Mario Anguiano Moreno has agreed to discuss the legalization of civil unions and adoption by same-sex couples. In Tabasco, the state's largest political parties, the Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI) and the Party of the Democratic Revolution (PRD), have announced their support for same-sex marriage in the 2010 agenda.
In 2001, the Netherlands passed a law allowing same-sex couples to marry, in addition to its 1998 "registered partnership" law (civil union) for both same-sex and opposite-sex couples. Belgium did likewise in 2003. Spain legalized same-sex marriage in 2005, Norway in 2008 and Sweden in 2009.
On 9 December 2004 the New Zealand Parliament passed the Civil Union Bill, establishing civil unions for same-sex and opposite-sex couples. The debate over Civil Unions was highly divisive in New Zealand, inspiring great public emotion both for and against the passing. A companion bill, the Relationships (Statutory References) Bill was passed shortly thereafter to remove discriminatory provisions on the basis of relationship status from a range of statutes and regulations. As a result of these bills, all couples in New Zealand, whether married, in a civil union, or in a de facto partnership, now generally enjoy the same rights and undertake the same obligations. These rights extend to immigration, next-of-kin status, social welfare, matrimonial property and other areas.
The Civil Union Act came into effect on 26 April 2005 with the first unions able to occur from Friday 29 April 2005.
Civil unions in Portugal were introduced for opposite-sex couples in 1 July 1999 and extended to same-sex couples by the act of 15 March 2001.
The current legislation extends to same-sex couples the same rights as heterosexual couples living in a de facto union for more than two years. The law covers housing arrangements, civil servants and work benefits, the option to choose a fiscal regime as married partners, and welfare benefits. The difference in the civil union law between same-sex and opposite-sex couples is that only opposite-sex couples can adopt children together.
The "registration" can be made by an application of joint tax assessment.
Also in 15 March 2001, a new multi-person law ("common economy") was also approved that protects two or more persons that live in common economy with most of the rights of the de facto union, except welfare benefits.
Since December 2006, same sex couples (and opposite sex couples) living in a civil union are also recognized in the same way as married couples for citizenship applications and when a public servant wants to extend healthcare protection to the partner. The Penal Code is also in the process of being changed to recognize same-sex couples in the Domestic violence law.
On 31 October 2007, during a parliamentary debate in Dáil Éireann on an opposition Bill to introduce civil unions, the government of the Republic of Ireland announced that it will be introducing its own legislation to create civil unions in March 2008. This was delayed but was released in June 2008.
South Africa legalized same-sex marriage in 2006; civil unions are also available to same-sex couples.
The Canton of Geneva has a law on cantonal level, the Partenariat cantonal (the Cantonal Domestic Partnership), since 2001. It grants unmarried couples, whether same-sex or opposite-sex, many rights, responsibilities and protections that married couples have. However, it does not allow benefits in taxation, social security, or health insurance premiums (unlike the federal law). Geneva was the first Canton to recognise same-sex couples through this law.
On September 22, 2002, voters in the Swiss canton of Zürich voted to extend a number of marriage rights to same-sex partners, including tax, inheritance, and social security benefits. The law is limited to same-sex couples, and both partners must have lived in the canton for six months and formally commit to running a household together and supporting and aiding each another.
On June 5, 2005, voters extended this right to the whole of Switzerland, through a federal referendum. This was the first time that the civil union laws were affirmed in a nationwide referendum in any country. The Federal Domestic Partnership Law, reserved to same-sex couples came into force on January 1, 2007. Although it represents progress for gays and lesbians in Switzerland, adoption rights and medically assisted procreation are explicitally forbidden for same-sex domestic partners.
In 2003, the British government announced plans to introduce civil partnerships which would allow same-sex couples the rights and responsibilities resulting from civil marriage. The Civil Partnership Bill was introduced into the House of Lords on March 30, 2004. After considering amendments made by the House of Commons, it was passed by the House of Lords, its final legislative hurdle, on November 17, 2004, and received Royal Assent on November 18. The Act came into force on 5 December 2005, and same-sex, but not opposite-sex, couples were able to form the civil partnerships from 19 December 2005 in Northern Ireland, 20 December 2005 in Scotland and 21 December 2005 in England and Wales. Separate provisions were included in the first Finance Act 2005 to allow regulations to be made to amend tax laws to give the same tax advantages and disadvantages to couples in civil partnerships as apply to married couples.
In order to counter claims that this is instituting same-sex marriage, government spokespersons emphasised that civil partnership is quite separate from marriage.
Aside from the manner in which couples register and the non-use of the word "marriage", civil partnerships and civil marriages give exactly the same legal rights and operate under the same constrictions and it is not legal to be in both a civil partnership and a marriage at the same time. Nevertheless, some of those in favour of legal same-sex marriage object that civil partnerships fall short of granting equality. They see legal marriage and civil partnerships as artificially segregated institutions, and draw parallels with the racial segregation of the United States' past.
Both same-sex marriages and civil unions of other nations will be automatically considered civil partnerships under UK law providing they came within Section 20 of the Act. This means, in some cases, non-Britons from nations with civil unions will have greater rights in the UK than in their native countries. For example, a Vermont civil union would have legal standing in the UK, however in cases where one partner was American and the other British, the Vermont civil union would not provide the Briton with right of abode in Vermont (or any other US state or territory), whereas it would provide the American with right of abode in the UK.
The first civil unions in the United States were offered by the state of Vermont in 2000. The federal government does not recognize these unions, and under the U.S. Defense of Marriage Act of 1996 (DOMA), other U.S. states are not obliged to recognize them. By the end of 2006, Connecticut and New Jersey had also enacted civil union laws; New Hampshire followed in 2007. Furthermore, California's domestic partnership law had been expanded to the point that it became practically a civil union law, as well. The same might be said for domestic partnership in the District of Columbia, domestic partnership in Washington, and domestic partnership in Oregon.
Jurisdictions in the U.S. that offer civil unions or domestic partnerships granting nearly all of the state-recognized rights of marriage to same-sex couples include:
States in the U.S. with domestic partnerships or similar status granting some of the rights of marriage include:
The right to marry was extended to same-sex couples in Massachusetts by a state Supreme Judicial Court ruling on 18 November 2003. In California, the right to same-sex marriage was granted by a state supreme court ruling on May 15, 2008. However, on 4 November 2008, California voters overturned this ruling by approving a constitutional amendment (listed on the ballot as "Proposition 8") stating that California recognizes only marriages between a man and a woman. The amendment was challenged in a court proceeding, but was upheld by the state supreme court, in a 6-1 vote, on May 26, 2009. The court ruled, however, that the approximately 18,000 same-sex marriages that took place in 2008 would remain valid. On October 10, 2008, the Connecticut Supreme Court overturned the state's civil-unions statute (2005), as unconstitutionally discriminating against same-sex couples, and required the state to recognize same-sex marriages. On August 31, 2007 a court in Iowa ruled that same-sex couples could marry in that state, but the following day the ruling was suspended pending appeals, and only one same-sex couple married. On April 3, 2009, the Iowa Supreme Court unanimously upheld the rejection of the ban, legalizing same-sex marriage. On April 7, 2009, Vermont became the fourth state to legalize gay marriage (not including California) — and the first to do so with a legislature's vote (including a vote by both legislative houses to override the governor's veto). On May 6, 2009, Maine became the fifth state to legalize same-sex marriage, the second to do so with a legislature's vote, and the first with the governor's signature (i.e., no veto). However, petitioners were able to get a "people's veto" on the ballot for November 3, 2009, thereby preventing the law from taking effect. In that election, voters repealed the marriage law. On June 3, 2009, New Hampshire became the sixth state to legalize same-sex marriage.
Due to the federal Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA), signed by President Bill Clinton during his 1996 re-election campaign, same-sex couples in marriages, civil unions, or domestic partnerships in the U.S. do not have the 1,138 rights, benefits and privileges that a married couple has under federal law.
In California, where domestic partnership (DP) has been available to same-sex couples since 2000, a wholesale revision of the law in 2005 made it substantially equivalent to marriage at the state level. In 2007, the Legislature took a further step toward equality when it required same-sex DP couples to file state income taxes jointly. (Couples must continue to file federal taxes as individuals.) In the May 2008 In Re Marriage Cases decision, the state supreme court noted nine differences between Domestic Partnerships and same-sex marriage in state law, including a cohabitation requirement for domestic partners, access to CalPERS long-term care insurance (but not CalPERS in general), and the lack of an equivalent to California's "confidential marriage" institution.
Regarding same-sex marriage (and related California court cases and constitutional amendments), see the section above this ("United States").
In 2005, the Connecticut General Assembly passed a bill to adopt civil unions in Connecticut. Connecticut's civil unions were identical to marriage and provided all of the same rights and responsibilities except for the title. Connecticut was the first state in the U.S. to voluntarily pass a same-sex civil unions law through the legislature without any immediate court intervention. On October 10, 2008, the Connecticut Supreme Court overturned that statute as unconstitutionally discriminating against same-sex couples, and required the state to recognize same-sex marriages. Although Governor Jodi Rell stated her disagreement with the decision, she said that she would uphold it.
The District of Columbia offers domestic partnerships which grant nearly all of the state-recognized rights of marriage to same-sex couples. *Domestic Partnerships in the District of Columbia (1992 law implemented, 2002 law came into effect - expanded over time to 2009)
On August 31, 2007, a court in Iowa ruled that same-sex couples could marry in that state, but the following day the ruling was suspended pending appeals, and only one same-sex couple married. On April 3, 2009, the Iowa Supreme Court unanimously upheld the rejection of the ban, legalizing same-sex marriage.
On May 6, 2009, Maine became the fifth state to legalize same-sex marriage, the second to do so with a legislature's vote, and the first with the governor's signature (i.e., no veto). The law was to go into effect on September 14, 2009, but opponents of same-sex marriage filed a "people's veto." The law was put on the ballot and, on November 3, 2009, was rejected by voters.
The right to marry was extended to same-sex couples by a state Supreme Judicial Court ruling on November 18, 2003.
On April 26, 2007, the New Hampshire General Court (state legislature) passed a civil union bill, and Governor John Lynch signed the bill into law on May 31, 2007. At the time, New Hampshire was "...the first state to embrace same-sex unions without a court order or the threat of one." The New Hampshire civil union legislation became effective on January 1, 2008. On June 3, 2009, the New Hampshire legislature passed new HB73, which includes protections for religious institutions, as required by Governor John Lynch to secure his signature on HB436, a bill legalizing same-sex marriage. Governor Lynch signed both bills the same day, making New Hampshire the sixth state to legalize same-sex marriage. The law goes into effect in January 2010.
On October 25, 2006, the Supreme Court of New Jersey gave New Jersey lawmakers 180 days to rewrite the state's marriage laws, either including same-sex couples or creating a new system of civil unions for them. On December 14 the Legislature passed a bill establishing civil unions in New Jersey, which was signed into law by Governor Jon Corzine on December 21, 2006. The first civil unions took place on February 19, 2007.
There are differences between civil unions and domestic partnerships. In 2004, the state of New Jersey enacted a domestic partnership law, offering certain limited rights and benefits to same-sex and different-sex couples. In 2006, however, after a state Supreme Court ruling that same-sex couples must be extended all the rights and benefits of marriage, the Legislature passed a civil unions law, effective in 2007, which fulfills the court's ruling.
On May 31, 2009, the Nevada legislature overrode Gov. Jim Gibbons' veto of a domestic partnership bill, making Nevada the 17th state to grant rights to same-sex couples. The bill allows that domestic partners, gay or straight, may register and have many of the rights afforded to married couples. The law did take effect from 1 October 2009.
Since 4 February 2008, Oregon offers domestic partnerships which grant nearly all of the state-recognized rights of marriage to same-sex couples.
The controversial civil unions law that was passed in the Vermont General Assembly in 2000 was a response to the Vermont Supreme Court ruling in Baker v. Vermont, requiring that the state grant same-sex couples the same rights and privileges accorded to married couples under the law. There were still many people who were strongly opposed to the idea of same-sex marriage, so the legislature enacted civil unions as a compromise between groups seeking identical rights for homosexual couples and groups objecting to same-sex marriage. One of the most instrumental champions of the bill in the Vermont House was a three-term legislator from Washington, Marion Milne. As happened to many other proponents of the law, her conservative home district responded by not re-electing her in the 2000 elections.
A Vermont civil union is nearly identical to a legal marriage, as far as the rights and responsibilities for which state law, not federal law, is responsible are concerned. It grants partners next-of-kin rights and other protections that heterosexual married couples also receive. However, despite the "full faith and credit" clause of the United States Constitution, civil unions are generally not recognized outside Vermont in the absence of specific legislation. Opponents of the law have supported the Defense of Marriage Act and the proposed Federal Marriage Amendment in order to prevent obligatory recognition of same-sex couples in other jurisdictions. This means that many of the advantages of marriage, which fall in the federal jurisdiction (over 1,100 federal laws, such as joint federal income tax returns, visas and work permits for the foreign partner of a U.S. citizen, etc), are not extended to the partners of a Vermont civil union.
As far as voluntary recognition of the civil union in other jurisdictions is concerned, New York City's Domestic Partnership Law, passed in 2002, recognizes civil unions formalized in other jurisdictions. Germany's international civil law (EGBGB) also accords to Vermont civil unions the same benefits and responsibilities that apply in Vermont, as long as they do not exceed the standard accorded by German law to a German civil union.
On April 7, 2009, Vermont became the fourth state to legalize same-sex marriage — and the first to do so with a legislature's vote (albeit without the governor's signature). The House voted to override Gov. Jim Douglas's veto, 100-49 — with the exact number of votes needed for the required two-thirds majority. The Senate followed with an override vote of 23-5. The new law went into effect on September 1, 2009.
Washington offers domestic partnerships which grant nearly all of the state-recognized rights of marriage to same-sex couples. *Domestic Partnerships in Washington (2007 law implemented and effective - expanded over time to 2009).
Civil unions in Uruguay were allowed nationwide from 1 January 2008.