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Civil Unions and Domestic Partnerships: Comparison to Marriage

Civil unions and domestic partner benefits may appear to provide virtually the same rights as marriage. However, there are critical distinctions between marriage and civil unions or domestic partner benefits. In 1997, the General Accounting Office released a memorandum describing the 1,049 federal laws in which rights are contingent upon marital status. Under the current federal definition of marriage, same-sex couples are barred from federal benefits heterosexual couples receive in the areas of taxation, social security, immigration, and veteran’s benefits. The privileges of marriage are uniformly recognized across jurisdictions. Conversely, the protections of civil unions and domestic partner benefits do not travel with couples, but are only selectively recognized. The inability to assert rights in a consistent fashion across jurisdictions is one of the largest distinctions between marriage and the existing alternatives for same-sex couples.

Civil Union: The Middle of the Bus
Sign from Rally to Support Same-Sex Marriage, Massachusetts, 2004. © Christine Fernsebner Eslao.