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Domestic partnership in the District of Columbia

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Washington, D.C., has recognized domestic partnerships since June 11, 1992, when the Health Benefits Expansion Act, DC Law 9-114, was passed, allowing unmarried, cohabiting couples (same-sex or opposite-sex) to register as domestic partners.[1][2][3] However, the U.S. Congress, which has ultimate legislative control of the District, forbade the spending of local funds to implement the law until the prohibition was lifted in the federal appropriations act for fiscal year 2002.[4] The rights afforded such registrations have been incrementally expanded since 2002, with the last expansion in May 2008.

Domestic Partnership BenefitsEdit

Domestic partnership in the District is open to both same-sex and opposite-sex couples. One of the unusual features of the original bill establishing domestic partnerships was that it allowed partnerships to be created between people who were related by blood (e.g., siblings or a parent and adult child, provided both were single). All couples registered as domestic partners are entitled to the same rights as family members to visit their domestic partners in the hospital and to make decisions concerning the treatment of a domestic partner’s remains after the partner’s death. [4]

The measure also grants District of Columbia government employees rights to a number of benefits. Domestic partners are eligible for health care insurance coverage, can use annual leave or unpaid leave for the birth or adoption of a dependent child or to care for a domestic partner or a partner's dependents, and can make funeral arrangements for a deceased partner.[4]

Legislative History of Domestic PartnershipsEdit

1992 - 2002Edit

The original bill establishing Domestic Partnerships in the District of Columbia was known as "The Health Benefits Expansion Act." It was passed by the City Council and signed into law by the Mayor of Washington, D.C. The bill became law on June 11, 1992. Every year between 1992 and 2002, the Republican leadership of the U.S. Congress added a rider to the District of Columbia appropriations bill that prohibited the use of federal or local funds to implement the Health Care Benefits Expansion Act.[5] [6] The law was finally implemented in fiscal year 2002 after Congress failed to add the rider to the appropriations bill.[7]

2003 - 2004Edit

Since the 2002 implementation of domestic partners, the benefits attached to Domestic Partnerships has been expanded many times. In the Health Care Decisions Act of 2003 domestic partners were given the right to make health care decisions for their partners.[4] The Deed Recordation Tax and Related Amendments Amendment Act of 2004 provided equal treatment, like spouses, of domestic partners for the purpose of paying the deed recordation tax.[4] Expanding benefits further, the Department Of Motor Vehicles Reform Amendment Act Of 2004 exempted domestic partners from the excise tax payable for transfer of title to your partner. And the Domestic Partnership Protection Amendment Act of 2004 amended the definition of the term "marital status" in the Human Rights Act of 1997 to include domestic partners.[4]


The Domestic Partnership Equality Amendment Act of 2006 was a major expansion of the benefits of domestic partners. The law came into effect on April 4, 2006. This act provides that in almost all cases a domestic partner will have the same rights as a spouse regarding inheritance, probate, guardianship, and certain other rights traditionally accorded to spouses. The act also gave the right to form premarital agreements for prospective partners, and for domestic partners to not testify against their partner in court. However, it does not extend most benefits of legal marriage to domestic partners, such as the marital estate tax deduction. [4] At the time of this latest expansion coming into effect in April 2006, there were 587 registered couples.[8]


The City Council and Mayor of Washington, D.C., once again, incrementally expanded the domestic partnership rights when in March 2007, the right to jointly file local taxes as domestic partners became law with the passage of the Domestic Partnerships Joint Filing Act of 2006. [9]


On May 6, 2008, the District of Columbia city council unanimously passed the Omnibus Domestic Partnership Equality Amendment Act of 2008. According to the Washington Blade, "the bill provides both rights and obligations for domestic partners in a total of 39 separate laws that touch on such areas as rental housing, condominiums, real estate transactions, nursing homes, life insurance, worker’s compensation, investigations into child abuse and the police department’s musical band, among other areas," thus "bringing the law to a point where same-sex couples who register as domestic partners will receive most, but not quite all, of the rights and benefits of marriage under District law." [10]

Recognition elsewhereEdit

At this time, District of Columbia law does not recognize marriage, civil unions, or domestic partnerships of same-sex couples from outside the city who have been recognized by laws elsewhere. [10] These couples would have to meet the domestic partnership requirements in the District of Columbia and then file to establish a new partnership within the city.

In response to the California Supreme Court ruling on May 15 and New York's decision to recognize same sex unions from elsewhere, Mayor Adrian Fenty instructed his Attorney General to investigate the District's legal options if DC residents ask for their unions from elsewhere to be recognized.[11] Previously, a similar report had been compiled by then-Attorney General Robert Spagnoletti for then-Mayor Anthony A. Williams stating same-sex marriages would be recognized under D.C. law.[12] The memo was not released by Mayor Williams and has not yet been released by Mayor Fenty.[12]

However, the U.S. state of New Jersey recognizes District of Columbia domestic partnerships as equivalent to New Jersey domestic partnerships (but not New Jersey civil unions). In contrast, British law does not recognize District of Columbia domestic partnerships as equivalent to civil partnerships in the United Kingdom.


  1. DC Office of Personnel: Services: Employee Benefits: Health Benefits Expansion Act of 1992 FAQs
  2. Homophobe Bush Threatens DC Over Domestic Partner Funds « From the Left
  3. CitizenLink: Amendment Would Mean No Money to D.C. Domestic-Partner Registry
  4. 4.0 4.1 4.2 4.3 4.4 4.5 4.6 Domestic Partnership. DC Department of Health, Vital Records Division. Retrieved on 2007-07-30.
  5. Homophobe Bush Threatens DC Over Domestic Partner Funds « From the Left
  6. CitizenLink: Amendment Would Mean No Money to D.C. Domestic-Partner Registry
  7. D.C. Domestic Partnership Program. Human Rights Campaign. Retrieved on 2008-05-15.
  8. "Registration for Domestic Partnership", Partners Task Force for Gay and Lesbian Couples. Retrieved on 2007-07-30. 
  9. GLAA celebrates as new domestic partnership joint filing law takes effect. Gay and Lesbian Activists Alliance of Washington. Retrieved on 2008-05-15.
  10. 10.0 10.1 Chibbaro, Lou. "D.C. Council expands DP law", Washington Blade, 2008-05-16. Retrieved on 2008-05-17. 
  11. Chibbaro, Lou. "Fenty orders review of gay marriage options: Calif. ruling prompts city to analyze legal position", Washington Blade, 2008-06-13. Retrieved on 2008-06-19. 
  12. 12.0 12.1 Johnson, Chris. "D.C. Playing Politics with Marriage?", Washington Blade, 2008-06-19. Retrieved on 2008-06-19. 

External linksEdit

See alsoEdit

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Same-sex unions in the United States

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