Many people are critical of civil unions because they say they represent separate status unequal to marriage ("marriage apartheid"). Others are critical because they say civil unions allow same-sex marriage by using a different name.
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 supporters of traditional 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.”
Registered partnership recognition in local governments:
The Australian federal/commonwealth government has banned the recognition of all same-sex marriages at the national level.
Tasmania has recognised de facto couples in unregistered co-habitation since 2002, as now do all other states and territories. Tasmania's Significant Relationships (a form of registered partnership may be utilised by carers, siblings and both opposite and same sex couples).
were extended to same-sex couples before the enactment (2005) nationwide of same-sex marriage in Canada. Between June 2003 and June 2005, courts in eight provinces and one territory of Canada extended marriage to include same-sex couples.
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, the Netherlands, 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.
On January 11, 2007, the northern state of Coahuila approved a similar measure with 20 votes from the Partido Revolucionario Institucional (PRI) and the Partido del Trabajo (PT) and 13 votes against from the PAN and the PRD. On January 31, 2007 the first civil union between two persons of the same sex took place in Saltillo, Coahuila. Two women, Karina Almaguer and Karla Lopez, became the first couple ever in Coahuila and in Mexico to formalize their union under such law.
The Civil Union Act came into effect on 26 April 2005 with the first unions able to occur from Friday 29 April 2005.
The current legislation extends to same-sex couples the same rights as heterosexual couples living in a de facto union for more than two years. The law covers housing arrangements, civil servants and work benefits, the option to choose a fiscal regime as married partners, and welfare benefits. The difference in the civil union law between same-sex and opposite-sex couples is that only opposite-sex couples can adopt children together.
The "registration" can be made by an application of joint tax assessment.
Also in 15 March 2001, a new multi-person law ("common economy") was also approved that protects two or more persons that live in common economy with most of the rights of the de facto union, except welfare benefits.
Since December 2006, same sex couples (and opposite sex couples) living in a civil union are also recognized in the same way as married couples for citizenship applications and when a public servant wants to extend healthcare protection to the partner. The Penal Code is also in the process of being changed to recognize same-sex couples in the Domestic violence law.
The Canton of Geneva has had a law on cantonal level, "Registered Partnership" or "PACS" (Pacte civil de solidarité), 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).
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. Partners must both live in the canton and formally commit themselves six months in advance to running a household and supporting and aiding one 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.
In order to counter claims that this is instituting same-sex marriage, government spokespersons emphasised that civil partnership is quite separate from marriage.
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.
Both same-sex marriages and civil unions of other nations will be automatically considered civil partnerships under UK law providing the 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.
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 obliged 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 from 2007 for domestic partnership in Maine, domestic partnerships in 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
States in the U.S. with domestic partnerships or similar status granting some of the rights of marriage include
Massachusetts, California, and Connecticut are the only states that offer same-sex marriage. The right to marry was extended to same-sex couples by state supreme court ruling on 18 November 2003 in Massachusetts and by a similar ruling on May 15, 2008 in California. In addition, on August 31, 2007 a court in Iowa ruled that same-sex couples could marry in that state, but the following day the ruling was suspended pending appeals, and only one same-sex couple married. Thus, until further court review, Iowa does not permit same-sex marriage.
Due to the federal Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA), same-sex couples in marriages, civil unions, or domestic partnerships in the U.S. do not have the 1,138 rights that a married couple has under federal law.
To illustrate the possible difference between civil unions and domestic partnerships, the state of New Jersey enacted a domestic partnership law in 2004, offering certain limited rights and benefits to same-sex and different-sex couples; however, after a state Supreme Court ruling in 2006 that same-sex couples must be extended all the rights and benefits of marriage, the state legislature passed a new civil unions law, effective in 2007, which fulfills the court's ruling.
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 of the state of 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 couple in other jurisdictions. This means that many of the advantages of marriage, which fall in the federal jurisdiction (Over 1,100 federal laws, 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.