The earliest domestic partnership statute was passed in Berkeley, California, in 1984, offering health and other benefits to both same-sex and opposite-sex couples who were city employees. In 1985 the newly incorporated city of West Hollywood, California, home to a large and politically active gay population, followed suit, though its ordinance offered no real benefits beyond symbolic registration. Since that time a growing number of municipalities and states around the country have established various sorts of domestic partner registration mechanisms, some of which confer some level of benefits on city or other employees and others of which are more clearly symbolic, offering the couple little more than a certificate that attests to their registration. Dissolution of domestic partnership can generally be accomplished by filing a notice with the agency that registered the partnership.
Domestic partnership offers limited legal protections to lesbian and gay couples without seeking outright to legalize their unions; registration as domestic partners is not in most cases limited to gay couples, but is also offered in some jurisdictions to straight couples who do not wish to marry but want some sort of official recognition of their situations.
The exact benefits vary from state to state. However the generally benefits available to domestic partners include:
• Life insurance
• Health insurance
• Death benefits
• Tax benefits
• Family and sick leave
• Parental rights
The specific requirements for registration of a domestic partnership vary from one jurisdiction to another but generally include some evidence of joint residence and economic interdependency, as well as a declaration that neither party has such a relationship with anyone else. Below are some of the legal issues associated with domestic partnerships:
• Are there any eligibility criteria for forming a domestic partnership?
• How can a domestic partnership be terminated?
• Can heterosexual couples form a domestic partnership when they have the option of getting married?
• Are the partners required to live together before they can form a legally valid domestic partnership?
• Do the partners have to live together for a certain period of time?
• How does domestic partnership affect the finances of the partners?
• Will a domestic partner have the same rights of a spouse when it comes to employee benefits?
• What are the requirements for a legally valid domestic partnership?
Many people think of domestic partnerships to be the same as marriage when it comes to the rights and benefits of the domestic partners. This is incorrect. Marriage is recognized across the nation. But domestic partnerships are valid only in some states. Federal law does not recognize domestic partnerships. So domestic partners will not receive any federal benefits which married couples are entitled to such as federal income tax benefit and federal benefit programs.
The law on domestic partnership varies from state to state and even within the state. It is difficult to keep a tab of these variations. Here are some sites that can help you remain updated about the domestic partnership law: www.lambdalegal.org, www.hrc.org and www.unmarried.org.