Definitions

civil-union

Civil union

A civil union is a legally recognized union 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 with rights, benefits, and responsibilities similar (in some countries, identical) to opposite-sex civil marriage. In some jurisdictions, such as Quebec, New Zealand, and Uruguay, civil unions are also open to opposite-sex couples.

Most civil-union countries 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.

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.

Terminology

The terms used to designate recognized same-sex 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 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.”

Civil unions and kinship

Legally, marriage is a means of establishing kinship outside of bloodline. This concept of kinship is one that permeates society, and is encoded in Western common law as well as the laws of every nation, including 1,138 federal laws in the United States. Kinship conveys not only rights and privileges, but duties and even restrictions. For example, judges cannot preside over certain of their kin according to Western common law. Because civil unions are a new concept, they do not instruct business, the courts or other agencies how to apply the centuries of kinship-related doctrine, custom and law to these arrangements which is one of the primary differences cited between marriage and civil unions.

List of jurisdictions allowing same-sex unions

Argentina

From 2003 the Argentinian province of Rio Negro and the city of Buenos Aires allow domestic partnerships. The City of Villa Carlos Paz allowed it from 2007.

Australia

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).

Brazil

Canada

In Canada:

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.

Colombia

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.

Denmark

Civil unions were introduced in Denmark by law on June 7, 1989, the world's first such law. It has the name of a registered partnership (Danish: "registreret partnerskab"), but has almost all the same qualities as marriage. It provides all the same legal and fiscal rights and obligations that come with a heterosexual marriage, with four exceptions:

  • registered partners cannot adopt, with the exception that one party can adopt the biological children of the other
  • registered partners cannot have joint custody of a child, except by adoption
  • 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, 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.

As of January 1, 2002, there were more than 2,000 registered partnerships in Denmark, of which 220 had children.

Europe

In Europe,

France

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.

Hungary

Israel

Israel (1994 as common-law marriage; 2006 as recognition of foreign marriage)

Mexico

On November 9, 2006, the Legislative Assembly of Mexico City approved a law that allows same gender civil Unions which are not fully equivalent to marriage but provides them with certain rights. The motion was approved by 43 votes in favor and 16 against and 6 abstentions. Many conservative groups in Mexico criticized the law that will be in effect after the Chief of Government of Mexico city sanctions it. In 2002 a similar law was proposed but dismissed by the conservative Partido Acción Nacional due to alleged "bureaucratic errors". Mexico City is by far the most liberal region of a country in which the majority professes the catholic faith. This law is the first to recognize rights for same-sex couples and was welcomed by the gay community in general.

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.

Netherlands

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. Belgium did likewise in 2003. Spain legalized same-sex marriage in 2005. Norway did it in 2008

New Zealand

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.

Portugal

Civil unions in Portugal were introduced for opposite-sex couples in 1 July 1999 and extended to same-sex couples by the act of 15 March 2001.

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.

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.

South Africa

South Africa legalized same-sex marriage in 2006; civil unions are also available to same-sex couples.

Switzerland

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.

United Kingdom

In 2003, the British government announced plans to introduce civil partnerships which would allow same-sex couples the rights and responsibilities resulting from civil 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.

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.

United States

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.

California

In California where domestic partnership has been available to same-sex couples since 2000, a wholesale revision of the law in 2005 has made it, like the New Jersey civil union law, equivalent to marriage in nearly every respect at the state level, though neither is recognized by the federal government.

Connecticut

In 2005, the Connecticut General Assembly passed a bill to adopt civil unions in Connecticut. Connecticut's civil unions are identical to marriage and provide all of the same rights and responsibilities except for the title. Connecticut was the first state in the US to voluntarily pass a same-sex civil unions law through the legislature without any immediate court intervention. On October 10, 2008, the Connecticut Supreme Court overturned that statute as unconstitutionally discriminating against same-sex couples, and required the state to recognize same-sex marriages. Although Governor Jodi Rell stated her disagreement with the decision, she said that she would uphold it.

New Jersey

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.

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.

New Hampshire

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.

Vermont

The controversial civil unions law passed in the Vermont General Assembly in 2000 was passed as 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. Like many other proponents of the law, her conservative home district retaliated 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 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.

Uruguay

Civil unions in Uruguay were allowed nationwide from 2008.

See also

References

External links

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