This week New York joined Connecticut, Iowa, Massachusetts, New Hampshire and Vermont in legalizing same sex marriage. New York is the largest, most populated state allow gay and lesbian couples to marry. “Supporters of the measure described the victory in New York as especially symbolic — and poignant — because of its rich place in the history of gay rights: the movement’s foundational moment, in June 1969, was a riot against police at the Stonewall Inn, a bar in the West Village,” according to the New York Times.
According to the article, the bill passed by a vote of 33 to 29 as a result of, “[f]our members of the Republican majority [and] all but one Democrat in the Senate in supporting the measure.”
What is the difference between same sex marriage, a civil union and domestic partnerships?
“The most significant difference…is that only marriage offers federal benefits and protections.” DOMA, the Defense of Marriage Act, signed into law by President Clinton defines marriage only as between a man and a woman. For details on some of the rights and benefits afforded through marriage and/or denied domestic partners, please read the attached Human Rights Campaign article.
A civil union is only recognized under state law. California, Nevada, New Jersey, Oregon, Washington and most recently, Illinois have enacted laws which permits civil union. According to an article by CNN, civil union affords couples the right to, “automatic hospital visitation rights, the ability to make emergency medical decisions for partners, the ability to share a room in a nursing home, adoption and parental rights, pension benefits, inheritance rights and the right to dispose of a partner’s remains,” however, these rights are not recognized in any state that hasn’t passed the civil union law.
A domestic partnership is a legal or personal relationship between either homosexual or heterosexual individuals who live together and share a common domestic life but are not married or joined by civil union. In researching this article it was next to impossible to find a consistent definition. What is commonly agreed upon is that marriage affords the most rights and responsibilities for a couple to commit and share their lives. A civil union affords couples the next level of legal commitment, but the couple is not entitled to federal benefits or universal recognition outside the states which have enacted a civil union act. A domestic partnership could seemingly even include two friends who are sharing a residence and common expenses and who represent to the jurisdiction that they are committed to one another.
Following on the heals of the pivotal New York vote allowing same sex marriage, Lambda Legal, a national gay rights advocacy group, sued to challenge New Jersey’s civil union law as violating the state and federal constitution, according to Bloomberg.com. It looks like the trend is changing as more states welcome new laws permitting more flexible definitions of marriage and legal partnerships. Time will tell.