Same-sex partnerships

A domestic partnership is a legal or interpersonal relationship between two individuals who live together and share a common domestic life but are neither joined by marriage nor a civil union. In some jurisdictions, such as Australia, New Zealand, the American states of Oregon, Washington, Nevada, and California, a domestic partnership is almost equivalent to marriage, or to other legally recognized unions, while in other jurisdictions such as the American states of Wisconsin and Maine, domestic partnerships may confer lesser relationship rights than other jurisdictions' civil unions and more than de facto cohabitation. The terminology for such unions is still evolving, and the exact level of rights and responsibilities conferred by a domestic partnership varies widely from place to place.

Some legislatures have voluntarily established domestic partnership relations by statute instead of being ordered to do so by a court. Although some jurisdictions have instituted domestic partnerships as a way to recognize same-sex unions, domestic partnerships may involve either different-sex or same-sex couples.

In some legal jurisdictions, domestic partners who live together for an extended period of time but are not legally entitled to common-law marriage may be entitled to legal protection in the form of a domestic partnership. Some domestic partners may enter into domestic partnership agreements in order to agree contractually to issues involving property ownership, support obligations, and similar issues common to marriage. (See effects of marriage and palimony.) Beyond agreements, registration of relationships in domestic partnership registries allow for the jurisdiction to formally acknowledge such agreements as valid relationships with limited rights, although agreements and registries have often been legalized in separate legislation.

One of the purposes of domestic partnership relation is to recognize the contribution of one partner to the property of the other. In the common law, devices such as the constructive trust are available to protect spouses in legal or common-law marriages. In civil law jurisdictions, such trusts are generally not available, prompting courts to find alternative ways to protect the partner who contributes to the other's property.

In the United States

Legal recognition of
same-sex relationships


Not yet in effect

  1. Valid in all 31 states
  2. No statewide law governs same-sex marriage; counties issue under their own volition or court order
  3. If performed in the Netherlands
  4. For succession purposes; if perfomed in the United Kingdom
LGBT portal

Origin of term in California municipalities

In August 1979, gay rights activist Tom Brougham proposed a new category of relationship called "domestic partnership".[1] Initially, the requirements were that only two people who resided together and were qualified to marry except that they were the same gender. Additional requirements were later added for the partners to maintain mutual financial responsibility and for both to be at least eighteen years old and able to enter into a legal contract.[2]

San Francisco

In 1982, Brougham's definition was modified by Supervisor Harry Britt, a gay man appointed to replace Harvey Milk. Britt's version was adopted and passed by the San Francisco Board of Supervisors, but Dianne Feinstein, mayor of San Francisco at the time, came under intense pressure from the Catholic Church and vetoed the bill. In 1989, a domestic partnership law was adopted in San Francisco.[3] However, voters repealed the domestic partnership law by initiative; a modified version was reinstated by another voter initiative, 1990's Proposition K, also written by Britt.[4][5] Currently, the city still offers a domestic partnership status separate and differing in benefits from that offered by the state; city residents can apply for both.[6]

In 1982, the term "domestic partner" was first used in a lawsuit filed by San Francisco Human Rights Commission employee Larry Brinkin. Brinkin, then an employee of Southern Pacific Railway, had recently suffered the loss of his partner of eleven years. When he was denied the three days of paid bereavement leave given to married employees, he filed suit with the assistance of the ACLU. Mr. Brinkin lost his case. Despite a great deal of evidence to the contrary, the judge agreed with his employer’s claim that there was no way to know if his relationship was legitimate.[7]


Main article: Domestic Partner Task Force

In 1983, the City Council of Berkeley, California, under the leadership of Mayor Gus Newport, ordered their Human Relations and Welfare Commission to develop a domestic partnership proposal. The Commission appointed its Vice-Chair, Leland Traiman, a gay activist, to head the Domestic Partner Task Force and draft a policy. Working with Tom Brougham, members of the East Bay Lesbian/Gay Democratic Club, and attorney Matt Coles, the Domestic Partner Task Force drafted what has become the template for domestic partner/civil union policies around the world. The City of Berkeley's Human Relations and Welfare Commission held a public hearing early in 1984 on "Examining the Use of Marriage to Determine Benefits and Liabilities in Berkeley and the Alternatives." A policy was adopted by the Commission and presented to the City Council. A copy was sent to the Berkeley School Board. In July 1984 the City Council voted down the proposal citing financial concerns. On August 1, 1984, the Berkeley School Board enacted the policy by a 4 to 1 vote. The school board motion was made by board member and community activist Ethel Manheimer.[8]

In November 1984, all the city council members up for election who had voted against the policy lost reelection. Progressives from the Berkeley Citizens' Action (BCA) slate who replaced them had voiced strong support for a domestic partner policy. The East Bay Lesbian/Gay Democratic Club had worked hard to elect the BCA Slate. This was the first time domestic partners was a campaign issue. At the first meeting of the new City Council in December 1984, the Berkeley City Council enacted a policy extending employee benefits to unmarried couples of any gender. The first couple to file for benefits under Berkeley's sex-neutral policy were Brougham and his partner Barry Warren.

However, the City Council did not create a registry for domestic partners until 1991. On October 11 of that year, 28 lesbian and gay male couples and one heterosexual couple registered their partnerships. The registry and benefits were also extended to non-resident couples that same year.

West Hollywood

In 1985, West Hollywood city council member John Heilman successfully introduced domestic partner legislation for city residents and employees that was passed by the city council and created the first domestic partnership registry.[1]

California, statewide

In 1999 California Gov. Gray Davis, a Democrat, signed a domestic partner bill, making California the first state to legally recognize same-sex couples.

On September 4, 2003 the California legislature passed an expanded domestic partnership bill, extending nearly all the legal rights of married couples to people in same-sex partnerships. This erased all difference between California's domestic partnerships and civil unions passed in other states. California's comprehensive domestic partner policy was the first same-sex couples policy in the United States created by a legislature without court intervention. The policy became effective January 1, 2005.

Potentially serious legal issues arise from the conflict between state sponsored unions be they domestic partnership, civil unions, or same-sex-marriage and U.S. Federal law, which, under the Defense of Marriage Act, prohibits Federal recognition to those unions. This means that state sponsored domestic partners, civil unions and same-sex marriages are not entitled to any Federal spousal rights such as Social Security, Federal tax law or immigration rights for foreign same-sex spouses of American citizens.

The State of California has developed an Online Self-Help Center that provides resources and information to assist domestic partners in many areas, including tax issues, and more.


Since July 1, 2009 unmarried couples have been legally able to enter a designated beneficiary agreement which will grant them limited rights.[9] A law on civil unions went into effect on May 1, 2013.

District of Columbia

Washington, D.C., has recognized domestic partnerships since 1992. However, Congress prohibited the District from spending any local funds to implement the law. The prohibition was lifted in the federal appropriations act for the District for the 2002 fiscal year. Domestic partnership in the District is open to both same-sex and opposite-sex couples. 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. 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. The Domestic Partnership Equality Amendment Act of 2006, D.C. Law 16-79, 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 other rights traditionally accorded to spouses.[10] D.C. Council on May 6, 2008 approved the addition of 39 new provisions to the city’s domestic partners law, 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.[11]


In April 2004 the legislature passed a domestic partnership bill. The law, which provides same-sex individuals with inheritance rights over their partners' property and guardianship over their deceased partner, went into effect on July 30, 2004. On May 6, 2009, Maine's legislature and governor enacted a law to legalize same-sex marriage, but on November 3, 2009, that law was repealed by voters.[12][13] Maine legalized same-sex marriage in December 2012.


Since July 1, 2008, unmarried couples have been able to enter a designated unregistered beneficiary agreement which will grant them limited rights such as the right to visit one another in the hospital, the right to share a room in a nursing home, and the right to make funeral decisions.[14] A law on same-sex marriage went into effect on January 1, 2013.


In Nevada domestic partnerships are granted all the benefits, rights, obligations and/or responsibilities of marriage (for both opposite-sex couples and same-sex couples over 18) and these have become legally available since 1 October 2009. The act specifically excludes requiring any entity to provide health benefits to domestic partners. In addition, due to vagueness in the verbiage of the act, most companies and entities within Nevada refuse to acknowledge or afford any major benefits or rights to registered domestic partners, leaving legal action as the only avenue to garner individual rights.


The governor of Oregon, Ted Kulongoski, signed a domestic partnership bill into law on May 9, 2007. Called the Oregon Family Fairness Act, the law would provide several major rights to same-sex couples that were previously only given to married couples, including the ability to file jointly on insurance forms, hospital visitation rights, and rights relating to the deceased partner. The law's initial implementation was delayed by a federal Court, but the injunction was lifted on February 1, 2008 and the law went into effect on February 4.[15]


Main article: Domestic partnership in Washington state

In the state of Washington, Governor Washington State Senate Report

Same-sex marriage was legalized in Washington with effect from December 6, 2012. As a result the domestic partneship law was amended so that from June 30, 2014, domestic partnerships will be available only when at least one of the partners is sixty-two years of age or older.[18]


Wisconsin was the first state in the Midwest to legislatively enact same-sex unions. Out of about thirty states that have bans on same-sex marriage and civil unions, Wisconsin was the first (and only) to enact domestic partnerships.[19]

On March 5, 2009 Wisconsin Governor Jim Doyle proposed legislation for same-sex partnerships in Wisconsin.

In June 2009, the Wisconsin State Assembly and Senate both passed the biennial state budget which includes domestic partnership protections for the state’s same-sex couples.[20][21]

On June 29, 2009, Governor Jim Doyle signed the budget, giving final approval to limited domestic partnership benefits for same-sex couples living in Wisconsin.[22]

On July 23, 2009, three members of Wisconsin Family Action filed a petition for an original action in the Wisconsin Supreme Court, seeking a declaration that the domestic partner registry is unconstitutional under the state's Marriage Protection Amendment.[23]

The law went into effect on August 3, 2009.

November 4, 2009: The Wisconsin Supreme Court rejected Appling v. Doyle, Wisconsin Family Action's legal challenge to domestic partnerships.[24]

May 13, 2011: Governor Scott Walker asked to withdraw the state's defense of the domestic partnership registry.[25]

June 20, 2011: Dane County Judge Dan Moeser ruled that the domestic partnership registry does not violate the state constitution, finding that the state "does not recognize domestic partnership in a way that even remotely resembles how the state recognizes marriage".[26]

Other states

Only New Jersey offers civil unions which, like California's domestic partners, are given certain rights, but not all of the rights that married couples are allotted. In 1994, Vermont became the first state in the United States to extend health benefits to domestic partners, lending to the fact that gay couples aren't treated equally everywhere.

Pennsylvania's domestic partnership laws can be combined with a cohabitation agreement and power of attorney to create same legal benefits for same sex couples as that of a traditional marriage,[27] often allowing partners to obtain family-related benefits, such as health insurance, from an employer. Pennsylvania domestic partnership agreements in PA can outline custody, property ownership, debt liabilities, and how these items will be divided should the relationship come to an end. While powers of attorney documentation lets each partner to appoint authorities over financial, medical, and other matters should the other partner become incapacitated.

Some municipalities in Massachusetts provide domestic partnerships, as an alternative option to marriage. These include the cities of Boston[28][29] and Cambridge.[30][31]

In Ann Arbor, Michigan, the Ann Arbor City Council passed a domestic partner ordinance on November 4, 1991. This entitled Ann Arbor City employees to benefits for their partners, and enabled couples to register.

On December 2008, the Cleveland, Ohio City Council voted to create a non-binding domestic partner registry.[32]

For a full list of cities and counties see the following page: Cities and counties in the United States offering a domestic partnership registry

Even in states where official recognition of their relationships is lacking; LGBT partners can conclude cohabitation agreements. Many states recognize through their judicial systems cohabitation agreements and common law partner agreements concluded between two partners in a relationship. These are de facto domestic partnerships that protect both parties and allow for shared property and court recognition of their relationships.[33][34]

United States Military

On February 11, 2013, Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta submitted a memorandum (suject: Extending Benefits to Same-Sex Domestic Partners of Military Members) that outlined benefits that would be made available to service members in domestic partnerships.[35] The newly listed benefits available to gay and lesbian service members includes:

-Dependant ID Cards

-Commissary privileges

-Exchange privileges

-Morale, Welfare, and Recreation (MWR) privileges

-Surveys of Military Families

-Quadrennial Quality of Life Review

-Emergency Leave

-Emergency Leave of Absence

-Youth Sponsorship Program

-Youth Programs

-Family Center Programs

-Sexual Assault Counselling Program

-Joint Duty Assignments

-Exemption from Hostile-Fire Areas

-Transportation to and from certain places of employment and on military installations, as well as primary and secondary school for dependants

-Authority of Service Secretary to Transport Remains of a Dependant

-Disability and Death Compensation: Dependants of Members Held as Captives

-Payments to Missing Persons

-Space-Available Travel on DoD Aircraft

-Child Care

-Legal Assistance

In Europe

Portugal, Hungary and Croatia have domestic partnerships, whereas most other nations in Europe recognize some form of civil unions, also called a registered partnership, or civil partnership for same-sex partners, which afford rights similar to marriage to LGBT couples.

In Hungary, since 1995[36] domestic partnership in the form of unregistered cohabitation offers a limited set of rights compared to marriage in a Civil Code (more in the field of health and pension; but no inheritance), although a growing number of Hungarian couples, both opposite-sex couples and same-sex couples choose this kind of partnership instead of marriage. In April 2009, the Hungarian Parliament passed a Registration Partnership Act 2009 with a vote of 199–159, which provides a registered partnership for same-sex couples with all the benefits and entitlements of marriage (except for marriage itself, adoption, IVF access, taking a partner's surname, parentage and surrogacy). The law was passed in December 2007 by a vote of 110–78, but the Constitutional Court of Hungary was "deeply concerned" that the law was a duplication of opposite-sex marriage benefits and entitlements, so same-sex couples only registration was chosen. Some politicians of the Alliance of Free Democrats and Hungarian Socialist Party parties have argued for the introduction of marriage for same-sex couples. The Registration Partnership Act 2009 came into effect from July 1, 2009.[37]

In Oceania


In Australia, all levels of Governments, plus even some Councils, such as Yarra, Melbourne and Sydney, now offer "de facto/domestic status" or a "registered or civil partnership" to both same-sex couples and opposite-sex couples. Nevertheless, since 2009, the Australian Government amended 100 statutes to recognise both opposite and same gender couples, but still bans same-sex marriages under the Marriage Act 1961.

New Zealand

In 2001, the Property (Relationships) Act 1976 was extended to offer partners in unregistered "de facto" relationships similar rights to those of married couples. A de facto relationship is defined as a relationship between two persons living as a couple, who are not married or in a civil union. This applies to both heterosexual and same sex couples.[40]

See also


External links

  • The New York Times
  • Know Your Rights: Legal Advice for Same-Sex Couples where Marriage and/or Domestic Partnership is Illegal
bg:Съвместно съжителство

es:Pareja de hecho pt:União de facto

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