By Martha J. Cardi, Reed Group Chief Compliance Officer
Currently, 15 states and the District of Columbia officially recognize some form of union between individuals of the same gender. These are variously designated as domestic partnerships, civil unions, or same-sex marriages. The legal effect of these unions varies from state to state. This article provides a brief overview of the laws in those states that authorize some sort of same-sex union.
Generally, these laws do not have the effect of requiring a private employer to extend typical spousal benefits to same-sex partners, such as health insurance and leave to care for an ill partner. There may be other state laws, however, that do have a direct impact on employer-employee relations, such as a state family leave law that allows time off to care for a same-sex partner.
States with some sort of same-sex union are summarized below in alphabetical order. For each state, this article provides the following information:
- Type of union authorized and definition
- Effective date
- Brief explanation of rights/obligations
- Link to the statute or other relevant source
California — Domestic Partnerships
Effective Date: June 30, 2005
Registered domestic partners have the same rights, protections, and benefits, and are subject to the same responsibilities, obligations, and duties under law, whether they derive from statutes, administrative regulations, court rules, government policies, common law, or any other provisions or sources of law, as are granted to and imposed upon spouses.
“Domestic partners” are two adults who have chosen to share one another’s lives in an intimate and committed relationship of mutual caring. A domestic partnership is established in California when both persons file a Declaration of Domestic Partnership with the Secretary of State.
Presently, domestic partnerships are available to same-sex couples, and to opposite-sex couples in which at least one party is over 62 years of age.
Effective January 1, 2012, domestic partnership eligibility requirements will be identical to those of marriage (e.g., not requiring the maintenance of a common residence).
Domestic Partnership Registry: http://www.leginfo.ca.gov/cgi-bin/displaycode?section=fam&group=00001-01000&file=297-297.5
Conversion of eligibility requirements: http://www.leginfo.ca.gov/pub/11-12/bill/sen/sb_0651-0700/sb_651_bill_20111009_chaptered.html
Connecticut — Same-Sex Marriage
Effective Date: April 23, 2009
Same-sex couples may marry and have all the same rights as opposite-sex couples.
“Marriage” means the legal union of two persons. . . . The registrar must issue a license to any two persons eligible to marry under the laws of Connecticut.
“Wherever in the general statutes or the public acts the term “husband”, “wife”, “groom”, “bride”, “widower” or “widow” is used, such term shall be deemed to include one party to a marriage between two persons of the same sex.”
Connecticut previously recognized civil unions. Effective October 1, 2010, civil unions ceased to be provided and existing civil unions were automatically converted to marriages. Voluntary conversion was available prior to this date upon passage of the act.
Same-sex marriage statute: http://www.cga.ct.gov/2009/ACT/Pa/pdf/2009PA-00013-R00SB-00899-PA.pdf
Delaware — Civil Unions
Effective Date: January 1, 2012.
Parties to a civil union recognized by Delaware law will have all the same rights, protections and benefits, and will be subject to the same responsibilities, obligations and duties under the laws of the state . . . enjoyed by or imposed upon married persons.
“Civil union” means a legal union between two individuals of the same sex established pursuant to Delaware law.
District of Columbia — Same-sex Marriage and Domestic Partnerships
Same-Sex Marriage: Effective Date: March 3, 2010
Any person may enter into a marriage in the District of Columbia with another person, regardless of gender, unless the marriage is otherwise expressly prohibited.
Same-sex marriage licenses became available in the District of Columbia on March 3, 2010, and marriages began on March 9, 2010.
“Where necessary to implement the rights and responsibilities relating to the marital relationship or familial relationships, gender-specific terms shall be construed to be gender neutral for all purposes throughout the law, whether in the context of statute, administrative or court rule, policy, common law, or any other source of civil law.”
Religious Freedom and Civil Marriage Equality Amendment Act of 2009: http://www.davidcatania.com/publicdocuments/Signed_Marriage_Bill.pdf
Domestic Partnerships: Effective 2002 – January 1, 2011
Domestic partnerships were allowed in the District of Columbia prior to same-sex marriages. The ability to register a new domestic partnership in DC expired as of January 1, 2011. Parties to existing domestic partnerships may apply for a marriage certificate and convert the partnership to a marriage. The domestic partnership dissolves as of the date of the marriage.
DC’s domestic partnership laws went through many amendments. Information can be found at: http://dchealth.dc.gov/doh/cwp/view,a,3,q,573324,dohNav_GID,1787,dohNav,%7C33110%7C33120%7C33139%7C.asp
Hawaii — Civil Unions
Effective Date; January 1, 2012.
Partners to a civil union will have all the same rights, benefits, protections, and responsibilities under law as are granted to married persons.
“Civil union” means a union between two individuals
of either the same or opposite sex established pursuant to Hawaii law.
Civil union statute: http://www.capitol.hawaii.gov/session2011/Bills/SB232_HD1_.HTM
Illinois — Civil Unions
Effective Date: June 1, 2011.
A party to a civil union is entitled to the same legal obligations, responsibilities, protections, and benefits as are afforded or recognized by the law of Illinois to spouses.
“Civil union” means a legal relationship between two persons, of either the same or opposite sex.
Illinois Religious Freedom Protection and Civil Union Act: http://www.ilga.gov/legislation/publicacts/fulltext.asp?Name=096-1513
Iowa — Same-sex Marriage
Effective Date: April 3, 2009
Same-sex marriages are permitted in Iowa.
As currently stated, Iowa Code § 595.2 limits civil marriage to a man and a woman. However, in 2009 the Iowa Supreme Court struck that language from the statute as a violation of the equal protection clause of the Iowa Constitution.
The remaining statutory language must be interpreted and applied in a manner allowing gay and lesbian people full access to the institution of civil marriage.
Maine — Domestic Partnerships
Effective Date: July 30, 2004
Registered domestic partners have legal status similar to that of married persons with respect to certain rights (e.g., inheritance without a will, making funeral and burial arrangements, entitlement to be named a guardian or conservator if partner becomes incapacitated or to be named a representative to administer a deceased partner’s estate, entitlement to make organ and tissue donation and explicit protection in the state’s domestic violence laws).
“Domestic partner” means one of two unmarried adults who are domiciled together under long-term arrangements that evidence a commitment to remain responsible indefinitely for each other’s welfare.
Nevada — Domestic Partnerships
Effective Date: June 1, 2009
Domestic partners have the same rights, protections and benefits, and are subject to the same responsibilities, obligations and duties under law as are granted to and imposed upon spouses.
“Domestic partners” means persons who have registered a valid domestic partnership with the state pursuant to law and have not terminated that domestic partnership.
Nevada Domestic Partnership Act: http://www.leg.state.nv.us/NRS/NRS-122A.html
New Hampshire — Same-Sex Marriage
Effective Date: January 1, 2010
Marriage is the legally recognized union of two people. Any person who otherwise meets the eligibility requirements for marriage may marry any other eligible person regardless of gender. Each party to a marriage shall be designated “bride,” “groom,” or “spouse.”
New Hampshire previously recognized civil unions. All civil unions will be merged into marriage no later than January 1, 2011, unless otherwise annulled or dissolved.
An act relative to marriage and civil unions: http://www.gencourt.state.nh.us/legislation/2009/HB0436.html
New Jersey — Civil Unions and Domestic Partnerships
Effective Date: February 19, 2007.
”Civil union” means the legally recognized union of two eligible individuals of the same sex established pursuant to New Jersey law. Parties to a civil union receive the same benefits and protections and are subject to the same responsibilities as spouses in a marriage.
Same-sex couples registered as domestic partners may enter into a civil union with the same person without terminating their domestic partnership first. If the domestic partnership was registered in New Jersey, it automatically terminates when the civil union is registered.
Domestic Partnerships registered prior to February 19, 2007 remain valid and are afforded the rights and benefits of Domestic Partners. New Domestic Partnerships are limited to same or opposite sex partners 62 years of age or older.
An act concerning marriage and civil unions: http://www.njleg.state.nj.us/2006/Bills/PL06/103_.HTM
Domestic Partnership Act: http://www.njleg.state.nj.us/2002/bills/pl03/246_.htm
NJ Attorney General Formal Opinion No. 3-2007: http://www.nj.gov/oag/newsreleases07/ag-formal-opinion-2.16.07.pdf
New York — Same-Sex Marriage
Effective Date: July 24, 2011
Same-sex marriages are permitted. “A marriage that is otherwise valid shall be valid regardless of whether the parties to the marriage are of the same or different sex.”
“It is the intent of the legislature that the marriages of same-sex and different-sex couples be treated equally in all respects under the law.” Marriage Equality Act: http://assembly.state.ny.us/leg/?default_fld=&bn=A08354&term=2011&Summary=Y&Text=Y
Oregon — Domestic partnerships
Effective Date: February 4, 2008
Domestic partners are treated the same as married spouses. Any privilege, immunity, right, or benefit granted or imposed by any law or other authority to an individual because the individual is or was married is granted on equivalent terms to an individual in a domestic partnership. “Domestic partnership” means a civil contract entered into in person between two individuals of the same sex who are at least 18 years of age, who are otherwise capable, and at least one of whom is a resident of Oregon. Oregon Family Fairness Act: http://www.leg.state.or.us/07reg/measures/hb2000.dir/hb2007.en.html
Vermont – Same-sex Marriage
Effective Date: September 1, 2009.
“Marriage” is the legally recognized union of two people, regardless of gender.
Vermont previously recognized civil unions. As of September 1, 2009, new civil unions are no longer available. Civil unions entered into prior to September 1, 2009 will remain valid.
Marriage Equality Act: http://www.leg.state.vt.us/docs/2010/bills/Passed/S-115.pdf
Washington – Domestic Partnerships
Effective Date: December 3, 2009
State registered domestic partners are treated the same as married spouses. Any privilege, immunity, right, benefit, or responsibility granted by any law or other authority to an individual because the individual is or was married is granted on equivalent terms to an individual in a state registered domestic partnership.
Couples of the same sex or in which at least one of the partners is age 62 or older may become registered domestic partners.
State Registered Domestic Partnerships: http://apps.leg.wa.gov/RCW/default.aspx?cite=26.60
Wisconsin – Domestic Partnerships
Effective Date: January 1, 2010
Registered domestic partners in Wisconsin are afforded some of the spousal benefits of marriage (e.g., inheritance and survivor protections, state family and medical leave, medical/hospital visitation rights, and exemption from the real estate transfer fee).
Same-sex Domestic Partnerships: http://legis.wisconsin.gov/statutes/Stat0770.pdf
Summary of effects of same-sex domestic partnership: http://www.wisbar.org/AM/Template.cfm?Section=Search&CONTENTID=87323&TEMPLATE=/CM/ContentDisplay.cfm#45