- Civil union
Legal recognition of
Marriage Performed in some jurisdictions Recognized, not performed Civil unions and
Performed in some jurisdictions Unregistered cohabitation Recognized in some jurisdictions See also LGBT portal
A civil union, also referred to as a civil or domestic partnership, is a legally recognized form of partnership similar to marriage. Beginning with Denmark in 1989, civil unions under one name or another have been established by law in many developed countries in order to provide same-sex couples rights, benefits, and responsibilities similar (in some countries, identical) to opposite-sex civil marriage. In some jurisdictions, such as Brazil, New Zealand, and Uruguay, civil unions are also open to opposite-sex couples.
Many countries with civil unions recognize foreign unions if those are essentially equivalent to their own; for example, the United Kingdom lists equivalent unions in Civil Partnership Act Schedule 20.
Supporters of civil unions contend that civil unions grant same-sex couples equal rights to married couples. Some commentators, such as Ian Ayres, are critical of civil unions because they say they represent a separate status unequal to marriage. According to an American history scholar Nancy Cott "there really is no comparison, because there is nothing that is like marriage except marriage." Others, such as Robert Knight, are critical because they say civil unions endow the same rights and privileges of heterosexual marriages — alleging that they allow same-sex marriage by using a different name.
Overview and terminology
The terms used to designate civil unions are not standardized, and vary widely from country to country. Government-sanctioned relationships that may be similar or equivalent to civil unions include civil partnerships, registered partnerships, domestic partnerships, significant relationships, reciprocal beneficiary relationships, common-law marriage, adult interdependent relationships, life partnerships, stable unions, civil solidarity pacts, and so on. The exact level of rights, benefits, obligations, and responsibilities also varies, depending on the laws of a particular country. Some jurisdictions allow same-sex couples to adopt, while others forbid them to do so, or allow adoption only in specified circumstances.
As used in the United States, beginning with the state of Vermont in 2000, the term civil union has connoted a status equivalent to marriage for same-sex couples; domestic partnership, offered by some states, counties, cities, and employers since as early as 1985, has generally connoted a lesser status with fewer benefits. However, the legislatures of the West Coast states of California, Oregon and Washington have preferred the term domestic partnership for enactments similar or equivalent to civil union laws in East Coast states.
Civil unions are not seen as a replacement for marriage by many in the gay community. "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. "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 opponents of same-sex 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.” The California Supreme Court, in the In Re Marriage Cases decision, noted nine differences in state law.
Civil unions are commonly criticised as being 'separate but equal', critics say they segregate same-sex couples by forcing them to use a separate institution. Supporters of same-sex marriage contend that treating same-sex couples differently from other couples under the law allows for inferior treatment and that if civil unions were the same as marriage there would be no reason for two separate laws. A New Jersey commission which reviewed the state's civil union law reported that the law "invites and encourages unequal treatment of same-sex couples and their children". Some have suggested that creating civil unions which are open to opposite-sex couples would avoid the accusations of apartheid. These have still been criticised as being 'separate but equal' by former New Zealand MP and feminist Marilyn Waring as same-sex couples remain excluded from the right to marry.
Proponents of civil unions say that they provide practical equality for same-sex couples and solve the problems over areas such as hospital visitation rights and transfer of property caused by lack of legal recognition. Proponents also say that creating civil unions is a more pragmatic way to ensure that same-sex couples have legal rights as it avoids the more controversial issues surrounding marriage.
Many supporters of same-sex marriage state that the word 'marriage' matters and that the term 'civil union' (and its equivalents) do not convey the emotional meaning or bring the respect that comes with marriage. Former US Solicitor General and attorney in the Perry v. Schwarzenegger case Theodore Olsen said that recognising same-sex couples under the term 'domestic partnership' stigmatizes gay people's relationships treating them as if they were "something akin to a commercial venture, not a loving union". Many also contend that the fact that civil unions are often not understood can cause difficulty for same-sex couples in emergency situations.
List of jurisdictions recognising same-sex unions
From 2003 the Argentine province of Rio Negro and the city of Buenos Aires allow domestic partnerships. The City of Villa Carlos Paz (Córdoba) allowed it from 2007. And since 2009 the city of Río Cuarto (Córdoba) allows Civil Unions too.
Since 13 August 2004 (after assent) under the Marriage Amendment Act 2004 (Commonwealth law) which amended the Marriage Act 1961, the Australian Government has banned same-sex marriages from being performed or recognised in Australia and overseas at a Commonwealth level .
All levels of Australian Governments under nearly all Australian statutes do recognise same-sex couples as de facto couples as unregistered co-habitation or de facto status since 2009 . From 1 July 2009 Centrelink recognised same-sex couples equally regarding social security – under the common-law marriage, de facto status or unregistered cohabitation .
Registered partnership recognition in state Governments:
Official relationship status Year of enactment ACT Civil Partnership 2008 New South Wales Domestic Partnership (Registry) 2010 Northern Territory Defined as 'De facto', no registry – Queensland Civil Partnership 2011 South Australia Domestic Partnership (Agreement) 2007 Tasmania Registered Partnership (Registry) 2004 Victoria Domestic Partnership (Registry) 2008 Western Australia Defined as 'De facto', no registry –
- Recognition of same-sex unions in Australia at federal level
- Recognition of same-sex unions in the Australian Capital Territory
- LGBT rights in New South Wales
- Domestic partnership in Tasmania
Registered partnership recognition in local governments:
- City of Sydney, New South Wales – Registered partnerships since 2004;
- City of Melbourne, Victoria – Registered partnerships since 2007;
- City of Yarra, Victoria – Registered partnerships since 2007.
Same-sex civil unions in Brazil are legal since May 5, 2011. Brazil's Supreme Court has voted overwhelmingly in favour of allowing same-sex couples the same legal rights as married couples. The decision was approved by 10-0 with one abstention. The ruling will give gay couples in "stable" partnerships the same financial and social rights enjoyed by those in opposite-sex relationships.
- Domestic partnerships in Nova Scotia (2001),
- Civil unions in Quebec (2002),
- Common-law relationships in Manitoba (2002), and
- Adult interdependent relationships in Alberta (2003)
were extended to same-sex couples before the enactment (2005) nationwide of same-sex marriage in Canada.
In 2007, Colombia came close to passing a law granting legal recognition to same-sex couples, but the bill failed on final passage in one house of the national legislature. However, a court decision in October 2007 extended social security and health insurance rights to same-sex couples. On January 29, 2009, the Constitutional Court ruled that cohabitating same-sex couples must be given all rights offered to unmarried heterosexual couples. Making Colombia the first Latin American country to fully grant this right to all its citizens. Couples can claim these rights after living together for two years.
Civil unions were introduced in Denmark by law on June 7, 1989, the world's first such law, and came into effect October 1 that year. It has the name of a registered partnership (Danish: "registreret partnerskab"), but has almost all the same qualities as marriage. Today it provides all the same legal and fiscal rights and obligations that come with a heterosexual marriage, with two exceptions:
- laws making explicit reference to the sexes of a married couple don't apply to registered partnerships
- regulations by international treaties do not apply unless all signatories agree.
Registered partnership is by civil ceremony only. The Church of Denmark has yet to decide how to handle the issue, but the general attitude of the church seems positive but hesitant. Some priests perform blessings of gay couples, and this is accepted by the church, which states that the church blesses people, not institutions.
Divorce for registered partners follows the same rules as ordinary divorces.
Only citizens of Denmark, Finland, Sweden, Norway and Iceland can enter into a registered partnership in Denmark. This list is adjusted whenever a new country legalizes same-sex unions. This rule excludes foreigners from gaining a registered partnership status that would not be legally recognised in their home country or state.
As of January 1, 2002, there were more than 2,000 registered partnerships in Denmark, of which 220 had children.
On March 17, 2009, the Folketing introduced a bill that gives same-sex couples in registered partnerships the right to adopt jointly. This bill was approved on 4 May 2010 and took effect on 1 July 2010.
The 2008 Constitution of Ecuador enacted civil unions between two people without regard to gender, giving same-sex couples the same rights as legally married heterosexual couples except for the right to adopt.
- Denmark (1989)
- Norway (1993)
- Sweden (1995)
- Iceland (1996)
- Greenland (1996)
- Netherlands (1998)
- France (1999)
- Belgium (2000)
- Finland (2002)
- Germany (2001)
- Luxembourg (2004)
- Andorra (2005)
- United Kingdom (2005)
- Czech Republic (2006)
- Slovenia (2006)
- Switzerland (2007)
- Hungary (2009)
- Austria (2010)
- Ireland (2011)
- Liechtenstein (2011)
The French law providing benefits to same-sex couples also applies to opposite-sex couples who choose this form of partnership over marriage. Known as the "Pacte civil de solidarité" (PACS), it is more easily dissolved than the divorce process applying to marriage. Tax benefits accrue immediately (only from 2007 on *Ref), while immigration benefits accrue only after the contract has been in effect for one year. The partners are required to have a common address, making it difficult for foreigners to use this law as a means to a residence permit, and difficult for French citizens to gain the right to live with a foreign partner – especially since the contract does not automatically give immigration rights, as does marriage.
Israel (1994 as common-law marriage; 2006 as recognition of foreign marriage)
On 9 November 2006, Mexico City's unicameral Legislative Assembly passed and approved (43–17) a bill legalizing same-sex civil unions, under the name Ley de Sociedades de Convivencia (Law for Co-existence Partnerships), which became effective in 16 March 2007. The law recognizes property and inheritance rights to same-sex couples. On 11 January 2007, the northern state of Coahuila, which borders Texas, passed a similar bill (20–13), under the name Pacto Civil de Solidaridad (Civil Pact of Solidarity). Unlike Mexico City's law, once same-sex couples have registered in Coahuila, the state protects their rights no matter where they live in the country. Twenty days after the law had passed, the country's first same-sex civil union took place in Saltillo, Coahuila. Civil unions have been proposed in at least six states since 2006.
In 2001, the Netherlands passed a law allowing same-sex couples to marry, in addition to its 1998 "registered partnership" law (civil union) for both same-sex and opposite-sex couples.
On 9 December 2004 the New Zealand Parliament passed the Civil Union Bill, establishing civil unions for same-sex and opposite-sex couples. The debate over Civil Unions was highly divisive in New Zealand, inspiring great public emotion both for and against the passing. A companion bill, the Relationships (Statutory References) Bill was passed shortly thereafter to remove discriminatory provisions on the basis of relationship status from a range of statutes and regulations. As a result of these bills, all couples in New Zealand, whether married, in a civil union, or in a de facto partnership, now generally enjoy the same rights and undertake the same obligations. These rights extend to immigration, next-of-kin status, social welfare, matrimonial property and other areas.
The Civil Union Act came into effect on 26 April 2005 with the first unions able to occur from Friday 29 April 2005.
Republic of Ireland
On 31 October 2007, during a parliamentary debate in Dáil Éireann on an opposition Bill to introduce civil unions, the government of the Republic of Ireland announced that it will be introducing its own legislation to create civil unions in March 2008. This was delayed but was released in June 2008. The Civil Partnership Bill, 2009 is expected to become law by October 2010 at the latest.
On Thursday, July 1, 2010 the lower house of the Irish Parliament Dáil Éireann passed the bill on Civil Partnerships unanimously. This bill allows civil partnerships of same-sex couples, and establishes an extensive package of rights, obligations and protections for same-sex couples who register as civil partners. The bill passed all stages of in both Houses of the Oireachtas , and came into effect on 1 January 2011. It had been expected that the first Civil Partnerships would take place in April 2011 due to : the need for further legislation to update Ireland's tax code and social welfare laws, and a legal requirement to give three months notice. However, the legislation does provide a mechanism for exemptions to be sought through the courts, and the first partnership between two men was registered on the 7th of February 2011.
South Africa legalized same-sex marriage in 2006. Same-sex and opposite-sex couples may register their unions either as marriages or as civil partnerships, but there is no legal difference other than the name.
The Canton of Geneva has a law on cantonal level, the Partenariat cantonal (the Cantonal Domestic Partnership), since 2001. It grants unmarried couples, whether same-sex or opposite-sex, many rights, responsibilities and protections that married couples have. However, it does not allow benefits in taxation, social security, or health insurance premiums (unlike the federal law). Geneva was the first Canton to recognise same-sex couples through this law.
On September 22, 2002, voters in the Swiss canton of Zürich voted to extend a number of marriage rights to same-sex partners, including tax, inheritance, and social security benefits. The law is limited to same-sex couples, and both partners must have lived in the canton for six months and formally commit to running a household together and supporting and aiding each another.
On June 5, 2005, voters extended this right to the whole of Switzerland, through a federal referendum. This was the first time that the civil union laws were affirmed in a nationwide referendum in any country. The Federal Domestic Partnership Law, reserved to same-sex couples came into force on January 1, 2007. Although it represents progress for gays and lesbians in Switzerland, adoption rights and medically assisted procreation are explicitly forbidden for same-sex domestic partners.
In 2003, the British government announced plans to introduce civil partnerships which would allow same-sex couples the rights and responsibilities resulting from marriage. The Civil Partnership Bill was introduced into the House of Lords on March 30, 2004. After considering amendments made by the House of Commons, it was passed by the House of Lords, its final legislative hurdle, on November 17, 2004, and received Royal Assent on November 18. The Act came into force on 5 December 2005, and same-sex, but not opposite-sex, couples were able to form the civil partnerships from 19 December 2005 in Northern Ireland, 20 December 2005 in Scotland and 21 December 2005 in England and Wales. Separate provisions were included in the first Finance Act 2005 to allow regulations to be made to amend tax laws to give the same tax advantages and disadvantages to couples in civil partnerships as apply to married couples.
In order to counter claims that this is instituting same-sex marriage, government spokespersons emphasised that civil partnership is quite separate from marriage. However, in September 2011, the UK Government Announced that Same-Sex Civil Marriage would be legalised, by 2015 at the latest. . The future status of civil partnerships is unclear.
Aside from the manner in which couples register and the non-use of the word "marriage", civil partnerships and civil marriages give exactly the same legal rights and operate under the same constrictions and it is not legal to be in both a civil partnership and a marriage at the same time. Nevertheless, some of those in favour of legal same-sex marriage object that civil partnerships fall short of granting equality. They see legal marriage and civil partnerships as artificially segregated institutions, and draw parallels with the racial segregation of the United States' past. Civil partnership ceremonies are prohibited by law from including religious readings, symbols or music, even if the church involved supports such use.
Both same-sex marriages and civil unions of other nations will be automatically considered civil partnerships under UK law providing they came within Section 20 of the Act. This means, in some cases, non-Britons from nations with civil unions will have greater rights in the UK than in their native countries. For example, a Vermont civil union would have legal standing in the UK, however in cases where one partner was American and the other British, the Vermont civil union would not provide the Briton with right of abode in Vermont (or any other US state or territory), whereas it would provide the American with right of abode in the UK.
In 2007, the Christian Party stood in the Scottish Parliament elections and criticised civil partnership in its manifesto as "inequitable, partial, and thus unfair" and demanded to change it to allow committed people that live together such as siblings, friends and parents and offsprings.
The first civil unions in the United States were offered by the state of Vermont in 2000. The federal government does not recognize these unions, and under the U.S. Defense of Marriage Act of 1996 (DOMA), other U.S. states are not obligated to recognize them. By the end of 2006, Connecticut and New Jersey had also enacted civil union laws; New Hampshire followed in 2007. Furthermore, California's domestic partnership law had been expanded to the point that it became practically a civil union law, as well. The same might be said for domestic partnership in the District of Columbia, domestic partnership in Washington, and domestic partnership in Oregon.
Jurisdictions in the U.S. that offer civil unions or domestic partnerships granting nearly all of the state-recognized rights of marriage to same-sex couples include:
- Domestic partnership in California (2000 – expanded over time)
- Civil union in New Jersey (2007)
- Domestic partnership in Oregon (2008)
- Domestic partnership in the District of Columbia (1992 law implemented, 2002 became effective – expanded over time)
- Domestic partnership in Washington (2007 – expanded over time)
- Domestic partnership in Nevada (2009)
- Civil union in Illinois (2011)
- Civil union in Rhode Island (2011)
- Civil union in Hawaii (2012)
- Civil union in Delaware (2012)
States in the U.S. with domestic partnerships or similar status granting some of the rights of marriage include:
- Reciprocal beneficiary relationship in Hawaii (1997)
- Domestic partnership in Maine (2004);
- Domestic partnership in Maryland (2008);
- Domestic partnership in New Jersey (2004);
- Designated beneficiary agreement in Colorado (2009).
- Domestic partnership in Wisconsin (2009).
In California, where domestic partnership (DP) has been available to same-sex couples since 2000, a wholesale revision of the law in 2005 made it substantially equivalent to marriage at the state level. In 2007, the Legislature took a further step toward equality when it required same-sex DP couples to file state income taxes jointly. (Couples must continue to file federal taxes as individuals.) In the May 2008 In Re Marriage Cases decision, the state supreme court noted nine differences between Domestic Partnerships and same-sex marriage in state law, including a cohabitation requirement for domestic partners, access to CalPERS long-term care insurance (but not CalPERS in general), and the lack of an equivalent to California's "confidential marriage" institution.
In 2005, the Connecticut General Assembly passed a bill to adopt civil unions in Connecticut. Connecticut's civil unions were identical to marriage and provided all of the same rights and responsibilities except for the title. Connecticut was the first state in the U.S. to voluntarily pass a same-sex civil unions law through the legislature without any immediate court intervention. The law was repealed on October 1, 2010, and replaced with a law making marriage gender-neutral.
Delaware Governor Jack Markell signed a civil union bill on May 12, 2011, that establishes civil unions in the state effective January 1, 2012.
District of Columbia
Same-sex marriage in the District of Columbia was legalized on December 18, 2009. Marriage licenses became available on March 3, 2010, and marriages began on March 9, 2010. *Domestic Partnerships in the District of Columbia (1992 law implemented, 2002 law came into effect – expanded over time to 2009)
On December 1, 2010 the Illinois state senate passed, in a 32-24-1 vote, SB1716 the "Illinois Religious Freedom Protection and Civil Union Act" just one day after the Illinois House of Representatives did the same in a 61-52-2 vote. On January 31, 2011, Illinois state Governor Pat Quinn signed into law bill SB1716 establishing same-sex civil unions. The new law came into effect on June 1, 2011. It is unique among civil union laws in the U.S. by extending civil unions to opposite-sex couples, which doubles as a tool for widowed seniors to keep survivor's benefits from a marriage while uniting at the state level with another partner.
Maine legalized domestic partnership in 2004.
On April 26, 2007, the New Hampshire General Court (state legislature) passed a civil union bill, and Governor John Lynch signed the bill into law on May 31, 2007. At the time, New Hampshire was "...the first state to embrace same-sex unions without a court order or the threat of one." The New Hampshire civil union legislation became effective on January 1, 2008. The law was replaced by the same-sex marriage law on January 1, 2010.
On October 25, 2006, the Supreme Court of New Jersey gave New Jersey lawmakers 180 days to rewrite the state's marriage laws, either including same-sex couples or creating a new system of civil unions for them. On December 14 the Legislature passed a bill establishing civil unions in New Jersey, which was signed into law by Governor Jon Corzine on December 21, 2006. The first civil unions took place on February 19, 2007.
There are differences between civil unions and domestic partnerships. In 2004, the state of New Jersey enacted a domestic partnership law, offering certain limited rights and benefits to same-sex and different-sex couples. In 2006, however, after a state Supreme Court ruling that same-sex couples must be extended all the rights and benefits of marriage, the Legislature passed a civil unions law, effective in 2007, which is an attempt to satisfy the court's ruling.
On May 31, 2009, the Nevada legislature overrode Gov. Jim Gibbons' veto of a domestic partnership bill. The bill allows that domestic partners, gay or straight, may register and have many of the rights afforded to married couples. The law did take effect from 1 October 2009.
Since 4 February 2008, Oregon offers domestic partnerships which grant nearly all of the state-recognized rights of marriage to same-sex couples.
Civil Unions are permitted in the State of Rhode Island as of July 1, 2011.
The controversial civil unions law that was passed in the Vermont General Assembly in 2000 was a response to the Vermont Supreme Court ruling in Baker v. Vermont, requiring that the state grant same-sex couples the same rights and privileges accorded to married couples under the law. There were still many people who were strongly opposed to the idea of same-sex marriage, so the legislature enacted civil unions as a compromise between groups seeking identical rights for homosexual couples and groups objecting to same-sex marriage. One of the most instrumental champions of the bill in the Vermont House was a three-term legislator from Washington, Marion Milne. As happened to many other proponents of the law, her conservative home district responded by not re-electing her in the 2000 elections.
A Vermont civil union is nearly identical to a legal marriage, as far as the rights and responsibilities for which state law, not federal law, is responsible are concerned. It grants partners next-of-kin rights and other protections that heterosexual married couples also receive. However, despite the "full faith and credit" clause of the United States Constitution, civil unions are generally not recognized outside Vermont in the absence of specific legislation. Opponents of the law have supported the Defense of Marriage Act and the proposed Federal Marriage Amendment in order to prevent obligatory recognition of same-sex couples in other jurisdictions. This means that many of the advantages of marriage, which fall in the federal jurisdiction (over 1,100 federal laws, such as joint federal income tax returns, visas and work permits for the foreign partner of a U.S. citizen, etc.), are not extended to the partners of a Vermont civil union.
As far as voluntary recognition of the civil union in other jurisdictions is concerned, New York City's Domestic Partnership Law, passed in 2002, recognizes civil unions formalized in other jurisdictions. Germany's international civil law (EGBGB) also accords to Vermont civil unions the same benefits and responsibilities that apply in Vermont, as long as they do not exceed the standard accorded by German law to a German civil union. The law was replaced by the same-sex marriage law on September 1, 2009.
Washington offers domestic partnerships which grant nearly all of the state-recognized rights of marriage to same-sex couples. Washington is the first state to have passed a same sex union bill by a popular vote.
- Domestic partnership in Washington (2007 law implemented and effective – expanded over time to 2009).
Civil unions in Uruguay were allowed nationwide from January 1, 2008.
- Common-law marriage
- Deputy marriage commissioner
- Domestic partnership
- Marriage privatization
- Same-sex marriage
- Same-sex union
- Convention on the recognition of registered partnerships
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Lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) topicsSexual orientation identitiesRelated HistoryPre-modern era16th to 19th century20th century21st century
- Same-sex marriage
- Post-Queer Theory
LGBT rights by country or territoryLGBT rights topics
- Legal issues
Sexual orientations – Medicine, science and sexology
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civil union — UK / US noun [countable] Word forms civil union : singular civil union plural civil unions a ceremony similar to a wedding for two people who are of the same sex … English dictionary
civil union — noun a voluntary union for life (or until divorce) of adult parties of the same sex parties to a civil union have all the same benefits, protections, and responsibilities under Vermont law as spouses in a marriage • Topics: ↑law, ↑jurisprudence • … Useful english dictionary
civil union — noun A legal union similar to marriage, established to allow similar rights to same sex couples as the partners in a traditional marriage have … Wiktionary
civil union — noun (in some countries) a legally recognized union of a same sex couple, with rights similar to those of marriage … English new terms dictionary
Civil Union Act, 2006 — Act to provide for the solemnisation of civil unions, by way of either a marriage or civil partnership; the legal consequences of civil unions; and to provide for matters incidental thereto. Citation … Wikipedia