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Civil Unions

Click Here if You Support Civil Unions and Gay Marriage

Click Here if You Support Civil Unions and Gay Marriage

With only six states across the U.S. currently legally recognizing  gay marriages, Connecticut, the District of Columbia, Iowa, Massachusetts, New Hampshire and Vermont and countless others instating laws prohibiting gay marriages through constitutional amendments, the gay marriage debate proves to be an uphill battle for the gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender community of America. 

While the arguments against gay marriages are considerably stronger than those for same-sex civil unions and domestic partnerships, since the title of a “marriage” is not accorded to homosexual couples, there are lawmakers and politicians, mainly in states where religion in a governing factor, which similarly view the state-recognition of any same-sex partnership as a negative thing. 

Those in support of the gay marriage debate, however, are strong in their belief that denying at least some form of a government-sanctioned domestic partnership to same-sex couples is pure discrimination, and that according to the Equal Protection Clause of the 14th Amendment, no state has the right to deny the protection of the laws to any person, gay or straight, and it’s as simple as that. Or so is the ideal situation. 

Of course, things have proven to be quite far from simple when it comes to the gay marriage debate and the question of whether gay marriages can simply be replaced with civil unions. Even though a marriage is technically considered a civil union, civil unions are somehow not considered “real” marriages in today’s society, and so, civil unions have become the less extreme comprise of the gay marriage debate between supporters and opponents of gay marriages. 

On one hand, they provide nearly- or exactly, depending on the state- equal protections, rights, and benefits as legal marriages between a man and a woman, and on the other hand, they appease those which claim that the sanctity of marriage is somehow destroyed by offering two men or two women the right to legally proclaim their devotion for each. 

And so, for the states which seem to have an overwhelming disapproval of the gay marriage debate on all fronts, civil unions prove to be a more feasible alternative to marriage, and one which, essentially, is better than no alternative at all.

Best Information on Civil Unions

Best Information on Civil Unions

Although there is no nationally
standardized law for a civil union, since the exact implications and level of
benefits of civil union laws differ from country to country and from state to
state, in the broadest sense, civil unions are terms used to legally recognize
a joining of two people that bears very similar qualities to marriage, but very
simply, is not actually called a


There are several government-sanctioned
relationships, in fact, which are much, or exactly, the same as civil unions.
These include, but are not limited to, civil partnerships, registered
partnerships, domestic partnerships, reciprocal beneficiary relationships,
adult interdependent partnerships, civil solidarity pacts, and so on. So what
is it, exactly, that separates a civil union from these other counterparts? In
the simplest sense, it’s all the in the name. 

In many cases, one state’s civil
union law may be exactly the same as another state’s domestic partnership law.
It’s merely a matter of how each individual jurisdiction chooses to word this
legal union. Generally, civil unions are assigned to describe a same-sex
partnership in a state recognized marriage-like union. 

In certain cases, though,
civil unions can refer to a heterosexual relationship as well, such as in the
country of New Zealand. Again, although each individual state and country has
their own set of legal rights, benefits, and responsibilities which are granted
to these partnerships, civil unions typically suggest that a couple is entitled
to rights similar to those awarded to opposite-sex married couples within a
state. Often, though, these rights and benefits prove to be far less for
homosexual couples. 


Currently, there are 20 countries and
nine U.S. states that grant the benefits of civil unions to homosexual
partnerships. Although many states which have passed civil union laws for
same-sex couples hold the social status of a civil union equivalent to
marriage, for the gay community, civil unions are not seen as a fair
replacement. “Marriage in the United States is a civil union; but a civil
union, as it has come to be called, is not marriage,” said one gay rights
activist and attorney “It is a….legal mechanism…[withholding]
something precious from gay people.” 

Opponents of legalized gay marriage,
on the other hand, mainly religious conservatives, argue that same-sex marriage
should indeed be distinguished by a different name, like a civil union, and
that the sanctity of marriage, which states that such a union is strictly
between one man and one woman, should be upheld. 

Do Domestic Partnerships Have Rights and Benefits?

Do Domestic Partnerships Have Rights and Benefits?

The benefits granted to those in civil unions, in support of gay marriage rights, vary from state to state. Generally speaking, civil unions and domestic partnerships alike are intended to replace the legalization of a same-sex marriage by giving same-sex marriage-minded couples the ability to obtain similar state rights and benefits of a heterosexual marriage, just without the actual legal recognition of the civil union being a “marriage.” Simply put, it’s same-sex marriage without the all-important title, and also, in some cases, with fewer benefits. Regardless, it’s still a major first step taken toward providing full gay marriage rights.

In the best case scenarios of states which have created a form of gay marriage rights by way of a civil union law, civil unions provide the same exact state benefits (again, no federal rights and benefits are provided) which are presented to those in a heterosexual marriage. Before same-sex marriage was legalized in the states of New Hampshire and Connecticut, for instance, civil unions in the states were accorded full gay-marriage rights, completely equal to those which opposite-sex partnerships were permitted to receive. 

Currently, Washington, New Jersey, and Nevada civil unions grant full state benefits. In such cases, couples have the ability to file state taxes together, the right to make medical decisions on behalf of a partner within the state’s borders, hospital visitation rights, family leave benefits, the ability to inherit a partner’s estate (even without a will), and the right to transfer motor vehicle titles, among hundreds of other benefits. 

Although it was not seen as an equal replacement for state-acknowledged same-sex marriage, at least it temporarily allowed gay couples equal state protections and benefits.

States which are far more hesitant about legalizing same-sex marriage for the time, but who have chosen to recognize at least minimal gay marriage rights, however, such as Colorado, Hawaii, and Maine offer only the most basic of benefits for those in a homosexual partnerships. 

By and large, these benefits include the ability to make funeral arrangements, the right to death benefits, and the right to medical decisions, which are certainly some of the most crucial of the gay-marriage rights. 

And while state civil union laws are intended to, in a way, be “everything but marriage,” there have nonetheless been an exceptional amount of reports which suggest that employers still refuse to recognize same-sex civil unions, and deny gay partnerships the benefits they are entitled, by law, to receive through their workplace.

Brief Descriptions of States’ Civil Unions and Gay Rights

Brief Descriptions of States' Civil Unions and Gay Rights

Same-sex marriages (under state marriage law) are currently only performed in the states of Connecticut, the District of Columbia, Iowa, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, and Vermont. 

Civil unions and other state-acknowledged same-sex partnerships, on the other hand, the compromising alternative for a gay marriage law, it seems, which grants similar marital benefits for same-sex partnerships as heterosexual married couples receive, have been adapted into law in some form or another in the states of California, Hawaii, Maine, Maryland, New Jersey, Nevada, Oregon, Washington, and Wisconsin.

While New Jersey is the only state to offer actual civil unions through law (since other states’ previous civil unions, like Connecticut and New Hampshire, have changed into gay marriage laws), Oregon, Washington, Nevada, and California offer a wide range of marital benefits through domestic partnerships. Maryland, Hawaii, Colorado, Maine, and Wisconsin provide the most limited form of marital benefits. Although these civil unions and domestic partnerships are seen as no substitute for a gay marriage law for the homosexual community, they do, however, state the following overall benefits:


California recognizes same-sex partnerships by offering legalized domestic partnerships, which offer some, but not all, of the same rights, benefits, and responsibilities as marriages under state marriage law.


Colorado recognizes same-sex partnerships through beneficiary agreements. These agreements grant limited marital rights.


Hawaii recognizes same-sex partnerships through a reciprocal beneficiary registry. These agreements grant limited marital rights.


Maine recognizes same-sex partnerships by offering legalized domestic partnerships. The law grants limited marital rights.


Maryland recognizes same-sex partnerships by offering legalized domestic partnerships. The law grants limited marital rights.

New Jersey

New Jersey recognizes same-sex partnerships by offering legalized civil unions which offer all of the same rights, benefits, and responsibilities as marriages under state marriage law.


Nevada recognizes same-sex partnerships by offering legalized domestic partnerships which offer all of the same rights, benefits, and responsibilities as marriages under state marriage law.


Oregon recognizes same-sex partnerships by offering legalized domestic partnerships, which offer some, but not all, of the same rights, benefits, and responsibilities as marriages under state marriage law.


Washington recognizes same-sex partnerships by offering legalized domestic partnerships which offer the same rights, benefits, and responsibilities as marriages under state marriage law.


Wisconsin recognizes same-sex partnerships by offering legalized domestic partnerships. The law grants limited marital rights.

International Measures Supporting Gay Marriage

International Measures Supporting Gay Marriage

On a global scale, the first move to create a state-recognized law supporting gay marriage took place in Denmark, on October 7, 1989. The country became the first in the world to grant same-sex couples the option of a legalized registered partnerships, and the decision ignited hope within the entire international gay community that legislation supporting gay marriage rights was indeed a very realistic possibility. 

Although not titled a “marriage,” Denmark’s historic civil union law of sorts accorded identical legal and fiscal rights, benefits, and responsibilities to homosexual partnerships as it did to opposite-sex civil marriages. Both national and international gay partnerships undoubtedly recognized this landmark move as the first big step taken toward international gay equality.

Roughly 20 other countries- France, Colombia, Spain, South Africa, Germany, Switzerland, the UK, Finland, Slovenia and Ecuador, among many others, have had some form of government sanctioned same-sex partnership law, civil union, domestic partnerships or other enacted in legal support of same-sex couples. 

Although the exact implications vary from country to country, most countries supply a wide range of state benefits and rights for its homosexual partnerships, such as state tax benefits and medical decision making. International countries fully supporting gay marriage by recognizing same-sex couples through the term of “marriage”, through law are Belgium, the Netherlands, Norway, South Africa, Spain, Sweden, and Canada.

For the rest of the world, however, supporting gay marriage and providing benefits for the international gay community, especially in more conservative and less developed nations, proves to be a challenge. In much of the Middle East and Africa, homosexuality is still heavily shunned upon and remains illegal.

In some parts of Asia, even a homosexual act can be considered illegal; some, in fact, bear penalties as harsh as life imprisonment, if caught. And so while the advancements made for the international gay community remain country specific, as homosexuality becomes more accepted, in time, there is indeed hope of worldwide gay marital rights.

The Legal Rights of Civil Unions and Gay Marriages

The Legal Rights of Civil Unions and Gay Marriages

Much like every state has its own distinct driving, property, and family laws (among many others), each one is likewise permitted to have individual laws pertaining to gay marriage, same-sex civil unions, and other forms of government-sanctioned partnerships. 

Although the 1996 Defense of Marriage Act, or DOMA, prohibits same-sex partnerships from being legally recognized by the federal government- specifically, it states that 1.) No state, U.S. subdivision or jurisdiction needs to treat a same-sex relationships the same sex as a heterosexual marriage, even if it is considered equal to a marriage in another state, and that 2.) The federal government recognizes a legal marriage solely as a union between one woman and one man. Certain states, such as Connecticut, Iowa, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, Vermont, and the District of Columbia, have indeed made the move to grant legal gay marriage rights for the homosexual community on a state level. 

In these cases, gay marriages are entitled to receive the 400 or so benefits which are granted to married couples within the borders of the state, however, are restricted from having access to the full 1,100 or so federal rights and protections which heterosexual married partnerships enjoy.

As for those states which have not yet recognized gay marriages, but rather, have opted for creating a civil union law in respect of its gay, marriage-minded couples and these include California, Colorado, Hawaii, Maine, New Jersey, Nevada, Oregon, Washington, and Wisconsin. 

The legal rights and benefits vary greatly from state to state. When Vermont became the first U.S. state to sign a civil union bill into law in 2000, for instance, couples were able to enjoy nearly every one of the privileges that non-gay marriages had, except for four (two of which pertained to adoption). 

Being that the state gave full martial rights to homosexual partnerships through a gay marriage law enacted in 2009, however, civil unions have since then become unnecessary for the Vermont gay community, and every civil union has officially been recognized as a legal gay marriage, with all of the attached legal benefits. States such as New Jersey and Nevada also provide civil unions with all the full rights and benefits of state marriages.

In other cases, however, civil union laws or domestic partnership laws offer only a small fraction of the benefits which the state government would otherwise provide for couples in a heterosexual marriage. This is clearly seen in Wisconsin, which provides only 43 rights and protections to it’s same-sex couples, in contrast to over 200 which married couples in the state receive.