marriage v. civil union

Was having a discussion on gay marriage with a right-winger the other day, and he claimed that legalizing gay marriage was not necessary in the U.S., because a gay couple could form a legal civil union with all the same rights (shared property, insurance, medical decisions, etc).

Now I don’t want to start a discussion here (factual board) on the pros/cons of legalizing gay marriage. I’m just curious if he’s correct about the civil union being legal, and carrying the same rights as a marriage without the same name. It sounds fishy to me…

As I understand it - or at least the way people explain it to me (they coulda been wrong) - there’s no difference, legally or in the eyes of the state, between “marriage” and “civil union”.

I do believe a good chunk of the hullaballoo has much more to do with the principle of the thing, however.

Nope. Only some states allow Civil Unions or Domestic Partnerships, and the benefits/responsibilities for them differ from state to state. CA Domestic Partnerships (which I am in) are considerably different than Civil Unions offered in VT, and a far cry from Marriage offered in MS. Marriage-like arrangements of any kind between same-gendered people are against the law in VA.

The most notable difference is that any Federal benefit or right that specifies spouses is completely unavailable to gay couples in DPs/CUs. There are over 1100 of them. No arrangement made through a lawyer could possibly confer any of them on my partner and myself.

Thanks to CA’s Domestic Partership laws, I have hospital visitation rights and some inheritance rights that I would not have otherwise. An advance medical directive that gives my partner decision-making authority over me in the case I cannot due to medical reasons can be drafted by a lawyer that might stand legal challenge in court, but frequently they do not if a family member chooses to object. (Granted this sometimes happens to married folk, but not nearly as often.) Inheritance can also be handled to a certain degree through legal documents, though again, family challenges more often than not can break through any will or inheritance agreement, especially in more homophobic states. And adoption, a right easily granted to second parents in a fully-recognized heterosexual marriage is something that is often denied to second parents in a domestic partnership, civil union, or other available marriage-like arrangement.

A final point, though. A marriage license costs something in the neighborhood of $100, does it not? To get all possible legal arrangements, which would fall far short of the protections and priveleges of actual marriage, would run my partner and I about $2500.

So, unequivacably they are not sufficient. If the Feds decide to start recognizing Civil Unions or Domestic Partnerships on equal footing to Civil Marriage, we might get somewhere. But I don’t see that happening any time soon.

I’m sure more people will post, but if you want any more detail, I’d be happy to dig it up.


I should also point out that a Civil Union or Domestic Partnership given in one state is not recognized in any other state, even if they have similar laws. They are most definitely not recognized in states that ban same-sex unions of any kind. However, I haven’t heard of a case of a marriage performed in one state not being recognized in another since the days of civil rights marches.


I stand corrected, then. It stands to reason, then, that if someone wishes to claim that a civil union is a perfect substitute for actual marriage, they should insist on legislation making it thus.

Thanks for the info. Seems I was right and the other party was wrong. =) Not that it’s good there aren’t legal protections for same sex partners, but at least I can accurately inform him that his “equal rights” argument is just incorrect.

I assume you meant MA (Massachusetts) or did I miss some REALLY big news?

If she’s a right-winger, another thing to mention is that even for those couples fortunate to live in a state-recognized marriage (in MA) or civil union (in VT) or domestic partnership (in CA most notably but also in other jurisdictions on both the state and lower levels) are subject to federal tax on the value of any benefits received where a mixed-sex married couple is not. If she’s truly a conservative the chance to deprive the federal government of a source of taxable revenue ought to go a long way toward swinging her support.

I’m only half-jesting.

And as long as I’ve mentioned taxation, can someone explain exactly how the “taxed as income” thing woks? I’ve read any number of times that if an employer provides partner benefits to unmarried couples, the employee has the value of those benefits assessed as taxable income, but what does that mean exactly? If the partner has, say, health insurance and the policy picks up the cost of a physical, is the employee taxed on the amount the policy pays out?

The NZ parliment is currently debating the civil union thing. Otto in your opinon would its acceptance be a bad thing?

Our current PM who is fully supporting the bill said she would have prefered to have a civil union then a mariage herself (she’s been married 28 yrs? thereabouts)

NZ also has the worlds first transgendered MP and at least one gay MP behind the civil union bill. Should they be fighting for marriage? Civil Union is a good thing I think. All the same legal rights none of the religious mumbo jumbo.