Same Sex Marriage, Civil Unions, and Domestic Partnerships

As the debate over same sex marriages continues to range, the law provides certain types of protection to same sex partners. This section will provide you with information you need on domestic partnerships, civil unions and same sex marriages.

Same Sex Marriage

Same sex marriage is a marriage between two individuals of the same sex. The spouses have the same benefits and rights as opposite sex couples at the state level. This includes tax benefits, spousal benefits, inheritance, spousal testimonial privilege and power to take medical decisions that can affect the other spouse.

Federal benefits will apply only to traditional marriages. As such a same sex spouse may be ineligible for many federal benefits including social security, veteran’s benefit, Medicaid, health insurance, retirement benefits, pensions, family leave, hospital visitation and immigration laws. For example a same sex spouse whose health insurance covers the other spouse must pay federal taxes on the total employer cost for that insurance.

The Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA), the federal law on marriages defines marriage as a contract between a man and a woman. As such it does not include same sex marriages but allows the states to decide whether or not to legally recognize a same sex marriage that is recognized in another state.

Civil Unions

In 1999 Vermont became the first state to legally recognize civil unions. Civil unions provide same sex couples with the same benefits and protections under state law as married couples. In states that do not recognize same sex marriages, civil unions offer a legally recognized alternative to same sex couples. Same sex civil unions are allowed only in a few states but same sex partners in a civil union are entitled to many benefits (benefits can vary by state) including right to title, loss of consortium, health insurance, etc.

Domestic Partnerships

Domestic partnerships are similar to civil unions. It is a form of relationship between same or opposite sex couples who live together but want to remain unmarried or whose marriage is prohibited by law. Many states, counties, towns and cities recognize domestic partnerships and a domestic partner is entitled to many of the benefits including employment benefits.

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