Same-sex unions in the United States: Wikis


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Legal recognition of
same-sex couples
Same-sex marriage


South Africa

Performed in some jurisdictions

Mexico: DF*
United States: CT, DC*, IA, MA, NH, VT, Coquille

Recognized, not performed

United States: CA (conditional), NY

Civil unions and
registered partnerships

Czech Republic

New Caledonia
New Zealand
Wallis and Futuna
United Kingdom

Performed in some jurisdictions

Argentina: BA, RC, RN, VCP
Australia: ACT, TAS, VIC
Mexico: COA
United States: CA, CO, HI, ME, NJ, NV, OR, WA, WI
Venezuela: ME

Recognized, not performed

Isle of Man (UK only)

Unregistered co-habitation



In some regions

United States: MD, RI

Status in other jurisdictions

China (PRC)
ROC (Taiwan)
Congo (DRC)
Costa Rica
Dominican Republic
El Salvador
European Union
Faroe Islands

Netherlands Antilles
South Korea

United States: AL, AS, AZ, DE, FL, GU, IL, LA, ME, MI, MN, MT, NM, NC, OH, PA, PR, RI, SC, UT, WV, WY, Native Americans


*DC (subject to Congressional review) and Mexico City same-sex marriage laws are effective from 1 March and 4 March 2010, respectively.

See also

Same-sex marriage
Same-sex marriage legislation
Timeline of same-sex marriage
Civil union
Domestic partnership
Registered partnership
Civil partnership
Listings by country

LGBT portal

Same-sex unions in the United States are legally recognized in some states and municipalities in various forms. These are same-sex marriage, civil unions, domestic partnerships, and reciprocal beneficiary relationships. Legally recognized same-sex unions can be formed in twelve states and the District of Columbia. None of these relationships, however, are recognized under federal law.


Federal law

The legal issues surrounding same-sex marriage in the United States are complicated by the nation's federal system of government. Traditionally, the federal government did not attempt to establish its own definition of marriage; any marriage recognized by a state was recognized by the federal government, even if that marriage was not recognized by one or more other states (as was the case with interracial marriage before 1967 due to anti-miscegenation laws). With the passage of the Defense of Marriage Act in 1996, however, a marriage was explicitly defined as a union of one man and one woman for the purposes of federal law. (See 1 U.S.C. § 7.) Thus, no act or agency of the federal government currently recognizes same-sex marriage.

According to the federal General Accounting Office (GAO), more than 1,138 rights and protections are conferred to U.S. citizens upon marriage by the federal government; areas affected include Social Security benefits, veterans' benefits, health insurance, Medicaid, hospital visitation, estate taxes, retirement savings, pensions, family leave, and immigration law.

However, many aspects of marriage law affecting the day to day lives of inhabitants of the United States are determined by the states, not the federal government, and the Defense of Marriage Act does not prevent individual states from defining marriage as they see fit; indeed, most legal scholars believe that the federal government cannot impose a definition of marriage onto the laws of the various states by statute.

Same-sex marriage

Same-sex marriage ceremony

Marriage is currently available to same-sex couples in five states—Connecticut, Iowa, Massachusetts, Vermont, and New Hampshire. Same-sex marriage is not recognized under federal law due to the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA). The law also permits states to refuse to recognize unions "treated as a marriage" under the laws of another state, which many states have done. Same-sex marriages performed in other jurisdictions may be recognized to varying degrees by New Mexico, New York, and Rhode Island.


On May 15, 2008, the California Supreme Court ruled that domestic partnerships, although granting nearly the same rights as marriage, were not sufficient under the California constitution.[1] As a result, the court struck down Proposition 22 and the parts of the Marriage Act defining marriage as between one man and one woman. The court denied bids to reverse the decision and to stay the decision until after the November 4, 2008, election and clarified that the ruling took effect on June 16, 2008. The California legislature had previously passed legislation legalizing gay marriage, but it was vetoed by Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger stating that, depending on how the court ruled in In re Marriage Cases, the law was either unconstitutional or irrelevant.[2] On November 4, 2008, the ruling was annulled when voters passed Proposition 8.


On October 10, 2008 Connecticut became the third state in the U.S. to recognize same-sex marriage; the court ruling took effect November 12, 2008.


In a unanimous decision released April 3, 2009, the Iowa Supreme Court ruled that the statute prohibiting same-sex marriage violated the equal protection clause of the state constitution.[3] The court ruling took effect April 29, 2009.


The first state to legalize same-sex marriage was Massachusetts. In 2003 the Massachusetts Supreme Court ruled in favor of same-sex couples seeking marriage in a 4-3 decision. It required the legislature grant same-sex couples the rights afforded to married couples. In a separate opinion, the court rejected attempts to opt for civil unions instead, insisting that same-sex marriage was the only appropriate remedy. The ruling took effect on May 17, 2004. The 1913 law was repealed on July 31, 2008 (which bypassed the standard 90-day waiting period and made the law effective immediately). It had prevented out-of-state same-sex couples from getting married in Massachusetts if the marriage was unrecognized or illegal in their home state (originally it had prevented out-of-state interracial couples from getting married in Massachusetts for the same reason). [4][5] An attempt to reintroduce the 1913 law failed in August, 2008.[6]


A same-sex marriage bill passed the Vermont legislature on April 2, 2009, but Governor Jim Douglas vetoed the bill on April 6.[7] However, on April 7, both houses of the legislature voted to override the governor's veto, making Vermont the first state in the U.S. to legalize same-sex marriage through legislative means[8]. The law has been effective since September 1, 2009.


A same-sex marriage bill passed the Maine legislature and was signed by the governor on May 6, 2009. The law was subsequently repealed by voters on November 3, 2009.[9]

New Hampshire

A same-sex marriage bill was signed into law by Governor Lynch on June 3, 2009. It became effective on January 1, 2010.

Civil unions

Civil unions are a means of establishing kinship in a manner similar to that of marriage. The formalities for entering a civil union and the benefits and responsibilities of the parties tend to be similar or identical to those relating to marriage. Various names are used for similar relationships in other countries, but civil union was first applied in Vermont.

Some in the gay community do not see civil unions as a replacement for marriage. "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.[10] "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".[11]

States with civil unions


In 2005, the Connecticut legislature became the first in the country to enact civil unions without a court order. It was signed into law by Governor Jodi Rell and took effect on October 1, 2005. However, gay rights groups, pushing for further recognition, introduced a bill to provide for same-sex marriage and filed a lawsuit seeking to overturn the ban on same-sex marriage in the state. The Governor stated that she would veto the legislation.

On October 10, 2008, the Supreme Court of Connecticut ruled that civil unions were discriminatory and the state must allow same-sex marriage under the equal protection clause of its constitution.[12]

New Hampshire

On April 4, 2007 the New Hampshire House of Representatives passed a civil unions bill, HB437, by a vote of 243 to 129. The bill is designed to grant partners in same-sex civil unions with the same "rights, responsibilities and obligations" as married couples in the state of New Hampshire.[13] On April 26, 2007, the New Hampshire Senate approved the civil unions bill 14-10 along political party lines. Governor Lynch signed the bill into law on May 31, 2007, making New Hampshire "the first state to embrace same-sex unions without a court order or the threat of one".[14] The civil unions law took effect on January 1, 2008.[15]

New Jersey

After a ruling by the New Jersey Supreme Court, the state has provided for civil unions. The ruling, similar to the ruling in Vermont, required the state grant all the benefits given to opposite-sex couples to same-sex couples. Prior to the ruling, same-sex couples enjoyed a broad range of benefits under the states domestic partnership law. The Civil Union Act took effect on February 19, 2007. Gay rights groups, however, have stated their dissatisfaction with the law and have promised to continue pushing for same-sex marriage in 2007 and 2008. The Governor, Jon Corzine, has indicated he would sign a same-sex marriage bill if passed.


Civil unions have been legal in Vermont since a 2000 Vermont Supreme Court ruling that required the state to recognize same-sex couples on par with heterosexual couples while leaving to the legislature the choice of whether to enact same-sex marriage or some other form of relationship recognition.

The legislature, under pressure from then Governor Howard Dean, opted for civil unions over marriage as a compromise measure. The act took effect on July 1, 2000[16].

Domestic partnerships

Domestic partnerships are any of a variety of relationships recognized by employers or state or local government. The benefits of domestic relationships range from very limited rights to all the rights afforded to married people by the state, except where federal law makes providing benefits impossible. While most domestic partnership schemes grant those partners limited, enumerated rights, the California and Oregon schemes provide substantially the same rights as marriage and are therefore, essentially, civil unions.

Government domestic partnership registries

For a full list of cities and counties see the following page: Cities and counties in the United States offering a domestic partnership registry
U.S. Map of Counties Containing Domestic Partnerships

Some U.S. cities, including New York, San Francisco, and Toledo, offer domestic partnership registries. These registries afford registered partner specified rights otherwise reserved to married couples. The rights afforded include access to city services and rights created by city ordinances. Some private employers within such cities use the domestic partnership registries for the purpose of determining employee eligibility for domestic partner benefits.[17]

Six U.S. states and the District of Columbia have some form of domestic partnership. One of these, Hawaii, calls its scheme a "reciprocal beneficiary" registry. Domestic partnership benefits vary widely, ranging from enumerated lists of benefits similar to municipal domestic partnerships to benefits equal to marriage.

States offering domestic partnerships

Example of California domestic partnership certificate.


A California domestic partnership is available to same-sex couples and to certain opposite-sex couples in which at least one party is at least 62 years of age. When it became law on September 22, 1999 the domestic partnership registry entitled partners to very few privileges such as hospital visitation rights. The legislature has since expanded the scope of California domestic partnerships to afford essentially the same rights and responsibilities common to marriage.[18] As such, it is now difficult to distinguish California domestic partnerships from civil unions offered in a handful of other states.


Beginning July 1, 2009, unmarried couples have been able to enter a designated beneficiary agreement which will grant them limited rights, including making funeral arrangements for each other, receiving death benefits and inheriting property without a will.[19]

District of Columbia

The Washington, DC domestic partnership law took effect on June 11, 1992 but was not funded by Congress until 2002. Both heterosexual and homosexual couples may register, and while benefits have increased over time, the benefits are specifically enumerated and are as extensive as those of marriage. There has been discussion about legalizing same sex marriage; however, Congress could prevent such a measure.


Under Hawaii's reciprocal beneficiary law, any two adults barred from marrying may enjoy a very limited number of benefits granted to married couples. It has been in place since 1997, when Hawaii voters approved a constitutional amendment granting the legislature power to reserve marriage to opposite-sex couples in response to a trial court decision in favor of same-sex marriage. The legislature then approved the law in place of same-sex marriage.


Maine instituted domestic partnerships in an act that took effect on July 30, 2004. Under the law, same-sex couples are entitled to many of the state's benefits of marriage.


On July 1, 2008 domestic partnerships became available in the state of Maryland. The new laws gave 11 marriage rights to domestic partners and added domestic partners to the list of family members that a person can add and remove from a deed to residential property without paying recordation and transfer taxes.


Since October 1, 2009, same-sex couples and opposite-sex couples over 18 have been able to enter into domestic partnerships.[20]

New Jersey

The New Jersey domestic partnership statute provides "limited healthcare, inheritance, property rights and other rights and obligations" but "[does] not approach the broad array of rights and obligations afforded to married couples." [21] When domestic partnerships were initially available, beginning July 10, 2004, to same-sex couples and to opposite-sex couples. Since the inception of civil unions in New Jersey, they are available to same- and opposite-sex couples aged 62 and older.[21][22] Couples in a domestic partnership prior to the Civil Union Act, however, were not required to enter a civil union.


In 2004, voters approved a state constitutional amendment banning same-sex marriage. Despite this defeat, gay rights groups have continued to push for civil unions in the state legislature. In trying to garner support for a civil unions bill, it was changed to a domestic partnership registry, although it still gave virtually all of the state level benefits that a marriage or civil union does.[23] In April 2007, the Oregon House passed the domestic partnership bill.

The bill was signed by the Governor on May 9, and made Oregon the ninth state in the United States to give some level of recognition to same-sex couples. Although the law was to take effect on January 1, 2008, it was delayed by court action and took effect on February 4, 2008.


After a 2006 court ruling rejecting same-sex marriage, gay rights groups have vowed to push for same-sex marriage in the long-term and domestic partnerships in the short-term.

In 2007, 2008 and 2009, domestic partnership bills over the years provided more rights, responsibilities and benefits to partners in domestic partnerships when they passed both the Washington state Senate and House. Governor Christine Gregoire signed all three bills into law while in office. An "all but marriage" expansion of the domestic partnership bill was signed by Gregoire on April 17, 2009. The law was approved 53% to 47% by Washington citizens in Referendum 71. Washington is the first U.S. state to approve a gay rights measure in a statewide vote.


The Wisconsin legislature passed its 2009-2010 Budget on June 26, 2009. Governor Jim Doyle included language in the bill to allow for domestic partnership registrations for all unmarried persons. Wisconsin is the first state to offer such domestic partnership benefits despite having a constitutional ban on same-sex marriage and comparable alternatives, like civil unions. A legal analysis found on May 15, 2009, that adding such language to the budget despite the bans was likely legal.[24] The law became effective on August 3, 2009.

Employment benefits

Some public- and private-sector U.S. employers provide health insurance or other spousal benefits to same-sex partners of employees, although the employee receiving benefits for his or her partner may have to pay income tax on the value of the benefit.

Laws regarding same-sex partnerships in the United States      Same-sex marriage1      Unions granting rights similar to marriage1,2      Legislation granting limited/enumerated rights1      Same-sex marriages performed elsewhere recognized1      No specific prohibition or recognition of same-sex marriages or unions      Statute bans same-sex marriage      Constitution bans same-sex marriage      Constitution bans same-sex marriage and some or all other kinds of same-sex unions
1May include recent laws or court decisions which have created legal recognition of same-sex relationships, but which have not entered into effect yet.
2Same-sex marriage laws in California are complicated, please see the article on same-sex marriage in California.

Partner benefits are more common among large employers, colleges and universities than at small businesses. The qualifications for and benefits of domestic partnership status vary from employer to employer; some recognize only same-sex or different-sex couples, while others recognize both.[25]

According to data from the Human Rights Campaign Foundation, the majority of Fortune 500 companies provided benefits to same-sex partners of employees as of June 2006.[26][27] Overall, 41 percent of HR professionals indicate that their organizations offered some form of domestic partner benefits (opposite-sex partners, same-sex partners or both).[28]

Because the U.S. Federal Government does not recognize same- or opposite-sex partners, tax benefits provided to opposite-sex spouses are generally not available to same-sex partners and spouses or opposite-sex partners.[29] While there are certain exceptions, generally under the Internal Revenue Code Section 152, the imputed value of the benefit will be considered taxable income. The proposed Tax Equity for Domestic Partner and Health Plan Beneficiaries Act would remove the disparity in tax treatment between such partners and married people, who are not taxed on benefits.

Same-sex unions under consideration

Same-sex couple recognition laws are being considered in the following states:


Openly gay representative Greg Harris introduced a bill to legalize civil unions for both same- and opposite-sex couples.[30] On March 21, 2007 the House Human Services Committee recommended the bill to be voted on by the full House by a 5-4 margin. The bill needs 61 votes to pass the House.


A case was heard before the Maryland Supreme Court seeking to legalize gay marriage in late 2006. On September 18, 2007 the Court of Appeals ruled against the plaintiffs in a 4-3 decision, leaving the statutory ban on same-sex marriage in place. Gay rights groups will likely seek legislation in the overwhelmingly Democratic legislature.

New Mexico

A domestic partnership bill passed the New Mexico House of Representatives and Governor Bill Richardson promised to sign the legislation should it pass the Senate. The legislation failed to advance.

New York

After a 2006 New York Court of Appeals decision in which the Court upheld the constitutionality of New York State's opposite-sex definition of marriage, New York gay rights groups vowed to push for same-sex marriage in the legislature. During his 2006 campaign, then-Attorney General Eliot Spitzer said that he would push to legalize same-sex marriage if elected,[31] and Governor Spitzer proposed a same-sex marriage bill to the state legislature on April 27, 2007. This legislation passed the New York State Assembly on June 19, 2007 but died in the Republican-controlled New York State Senate and was returned to the Assembly.[32]

Rhode Island

Gay rights organizations have for years been seeking to legalize same-sex marriage in Rhode Island, yet legislation has never been brought up for a vote. While the State Supreme Court is considering the legality of same-sex marriage in Rhode Island, gay rights groups are pushing for incremental gains in the legislature by earning individual rights for same-sex couples. While a civil union bill has been submitted to the legislature, gay rights groups are opposing it calling for no less than same-sex marriage. On February 20, 2007 Attorney General Patrick Lynch issued an opinion holding that same-sex marriages performed in Massachusetts would be recognized in Rhode Island.[33][34][35]

See also


  1. ^ "Text of the decision in In re Marriage Cases". Supreme Court of California. 2008-05-15. Retrieved 2008-06-05.  
  2. ^ "In re Marriage Cases, footnote 17, pages 29-30". Supreme Court of California. 2008-05-15. Retrieved 2008-06-05.  
  3. ^ "Iowa Supreme Court upholds Hanson's ruling; marriage no longer limited to one man, one woman". Des Moines Register. 2009-04-03. Retrieved 2009-04-03.  
  4. ^
  5. ^
  6. ^
  7. ^ Gram, Dave (2009-04-06). "Vermont Gov. Douglas vetoes gay marriage bill". Boston Globe. Retrieved 2009-04-07.  
  8. ^ Gram, Dave (2009-04-07). "Vermont legalizes gay marriage with veto override". Associated Press. Retrieved 2009-04-07.  
  9. ^ Susan M. Cover (4 November 2009). "Mainers vote down gay marriage law". Portland Press Herald. Retrieved 4 November 2009. "The measure is repealed in a close vote, 53-47 percent"  
  10. ^ Interview with Evan Wolfson, David Shankbone, September 30, 2007
  11. ^ "Bush stance on gay unions irks conservatives".  
  12. ^ Spencer, Mark; Alaine Griffin and Daniela Altimari (2008-10-10). "High Court Grants Gay Marriage Rights". Hartford Courant.,0,7812756.story. Retrieved 2008-10-10.  
  13. ^ "N.H. House passes civil unions". 2007-04-05. Retrieved 2008-05-29.  
  14. ^ "State Senate approves civil unions for same-sex couples". 2007-04-26. Retrieved 2008-05-29.  
  15. ^ "Lynch signs bill legalizing civil unions". 2007-05-31. Retrieved 2008-05-29.  
  16. ^ H275 "H275 Bill Status". H275.  
  17. ^ "Human Rights Campaign - Defining Domestic Partners for Benefits Purposes". Retrieved 2008-03-06.  
  18. ^ "Text of the decision in In re Marriage Cases". Supreme Court of California accessdate=2008-06-05. 2008-05-15.  
  19. ^ "Ritter signs bill that will help gay couples". Associated Press (The Denver Post). 2009-04-09. Retrieved 2009-04-10.  
  20. ^ House overrides governor's veto of domestic partners bill]
  21. ^ a b Rabner, Stuart (2007-02-17). "Formal Opinion". Attorney General (New Jersey). Retrieved 2007-07-24.  
  22. ^ "Civil Unions for Same-sex Couples in New Jersey". (Lambda Legal). 2007. Retrieved 2007-07-31.  
  23. ^ "HB 2007" (PDF). Retrieved 2008-05-29.  
  24. ^ Memo says Wisconsin domestic partnership plan likely legal]
  25. ^ "Human Rights Campaign - Defining Domestic Partners for Benefits Purposes". Retrieved 2008-03-06.  
  26. ^ Human Rights Campaign Foundation - State of the Workplace for Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual and Transgender Americans, 2005-2006
  27. ^ "Human Rights Campaign - GLBT Equality at the Fortune 500". Retrieved 2008-03-09.  
  28. ^ "Employees Undervalue Benefits, SHRM 2007 Survey Finds". Retrieved 2008-03-09.  
  29. ^ Human Rights Campaign - What the Defense of Marriage Act Does
  30. ^ "HB1826".  
  31. ^ "Spitzer Vows to Push for Gay Marriage". 2006-10-06. Retrieved 2008-05-29.  
  32. ^ "Assembly Bill 8590".  
  33. ^ "Attorney General's opinion letter".  
  34. ^ "Rhode Island Steps Toward Recognizing Same-Sex Marriage".  
  35. ^ "GLAD press release regarding AG opinion".  

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