Template:Same-sex unions 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 nine states. None of these relationships, however, is recognized under federal law.

Federal lawEdit

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 Template:Usc.) 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.[citation needed]

Same-sex marriageEdit


Marriage is available to same-sex couples in two states, California and Massachusetts, but 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. Most have laws doing just that. Same-sex marriages performed in other jurisdictions may be recognized to varying degrees by New Mexico, New York, and Rhode Island.


On 15 May 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 8 2008 election and clarified that the ruling takes effect on June 16, 2008 at 5:01 p.m. 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]


The first state to legalize gay 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.

Civil unionsEdit

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.[3] "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".[4]

States with civil unionsEdit


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, effective 1 October 2008. However, gay rights groups, pushing for further recognition, have introduced a bill to provide for same-sex marriage and have filed a lawsuit seeking to overturn the ban on same-sex marriage in the state. The Governor has said she would veto the legislation.

New HampshireEdit

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.[5] 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".[6] The civil unions law took effect on January 1, 2008.[7]

New JerseyEdit

See also: Same-sex marriage in 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 19 February 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.

Domestic partnershipsEdit

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 registriesEdit

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.[8]

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 partnershipsEdit

File:Ca dp certificate.jpg


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 22 September 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.[9] As such, it is now difficult to distinguish California domestic partnerships from civil unions offered in a handful of other states.

District of ColumbiaEdit

The Washington, DC domestic partnership law took effect on 11 June 1992, but was not funded by Congress until 2002. Both heterosexual and homosexual couples may register, and while benefits have increase 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 30 July 2004. Under the law, same-sex couples enjoy many of the state's benefits of marriage.

New JerseyEdit

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." [10] When domestic partnerships were initially available, beginning 10 July 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.[10][11] 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 as a marriage or civil union does.[12] In April 2007 the Oregon House passed the domestic partnership bill.

The bill passed the House in April 2007 and the House on May 2. It was signed by the Governor on May 9. The bill made Oregon the 9th state in the United States to give some level of recognition to same-sex couples. Although the law was to take effect on 1 January, 2008, it was delayed by court action. It took effect on 4 February 2008.


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 1 July 2000. Recently, however, there has been a greater push for same-sex marriage, and a same-sex marriage bill was introduced in the state legislature on February 9, 2007.[13]


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 March 2007, a domestic partnership bill providing some of the rights of marriage passed the Senate, and on April 10, 2007 the bill passed the House of Representatives. The bill became law on April 21, 2007 when Governor Christine Gregoire signed it and took effect on July 22, 2007.

Employment benefitsEdit

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.

File:Samesex marriage in USA.svg

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.[14]

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.[15][16] 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).[17]

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.[18] 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 considerationEdit

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.[19] 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, and the bill will likely be voted on this spring. The bill needs 61 votes to pass the House. Governor Blagojevich has stated support for civil unions in the past.


See also: Same-sex marriage in Maryland

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 MexicoEdit

See also: Same-sex marriage in New Mexico

A domestic partnership bill has passed the New Mexico House of Representatives and has been sent to the Senate Public Affairs Committee. It has passed the committee and will likely be brought up for a vote soon. Governor Bill Richardson has promised to sign the legislation should it pass the Senate. The legislation was gutted and thus killed on the last day of the session. The Governor in turn called a special session for March 20, 2008 to address the issue along with seven other bills. The legislature, however, refused to take up the bill, with the Senate especially unhappy about being forced to come back after the regular session. It only passed two of Richardson's eight bills and left the others to be taken up at next year's session.

New YorkEdit

See also: Same-sex marriage in 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,[20] 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.[21]

Rhode IslandEdit

See also: Same-sex marriage in 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.[22][23][24]

See alsoEdit


  1. Text of the decision in In re Marriage Cases. Supreme Court of California (2008-05-15). Retrieved on 2008-06-05.
  2. In re Marriage Cases, footnote 17, pages 29-30. Supreme Court of California (2008-05-15). Retrieved on 2008-06-05.
  3. Interview with Evan Wolfson, David Shankbone, September 30, 2007
  4. Bush stance on gay unions irks conservatives.
  5. N.H. House passes civil unions (2007-04-05). Retrieved on 2008-05-29.
  6. State Senate approves civil unions for same-sex couples (2007-04-26). Retrieved on 2008-05-29.
  7. Lynch signs bill legalizing civil unions (2007-05-31). Retrieved on 2008-05-29.
  8. Human Rights Campaign - Defining Domestic Partners for Benefits Purposes. Retrieved on 2008-03-06.
  9. Text of the decision in In re Marriage Cases. Supreme Court of California accessdate=2008-06-05 (2008-05-15).
  10. 10.0 10.1 Rabner, Stuart. "Formal Opinion", Attorney General, New Jersey, 2007-02-17. Retrieved on 2007-07-24. 
  11. "Civil Unions for Same-sex Couples in New Jersey",, Lambda Legal, 2007. Retrieved on 2007-07-31. 
  12. HB 2007 (PDF). Retrieved on 2008-05-29.
  13. H275 H275 Bill Status.
  14. Human Rights Campaign - Defining Domestic Partners for Benefits Purposes. Retrieved on 2008-03-06.
  15. Human Rights Campaign Foundation - State of the Workplace for Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual and Transgender Americans, 2005-2006
  16. Human Rights Campaign - GLBT Equality at the Fortune 500. Retrieved on 2008-03-09.
  17. Employees Undervalue Benefits, SHRM 2007 Survey Finds. Retrieved on 2008-03-09.
  18. Human Rights Campaign - What the Defense of Marriage Act Does
  19. HB1826.
  20. Spitzer Vows to Push for Gay Marriage (2006-10-06). Retrieved on 2008-05-29.
  21. Assembly Bill 8590.
  22. Attorney General's opinion letter.
  23. Rhode Island Steps Toward Recognizing Same-Sex Marriage.
  24. GLAD press release regarding AG opinion.

Template:Same-sex marriage in the United States

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