In the United States, domestic partnership is a city-, county-, state-, or employer-recognized status that may be available to same-sex couples and, sometimes, opposite-sex couples. Although similar to marriage, a domestic partnership does not confer any of the 1,138 rights afforded to married couples by the federal government. Domestic partnerships in the United States are determined by each state or local jurisdiction, so there is no nationwide consistency on the rights, responsibilities, and benefits accorded domestic partners.
Couples who live in localities without civil unions or domestic partnerships may voluntarily enter into a private, informal domestic partnership agreement, specifying their mutual obligations; however, this involves drawing up a number of separate legal documents, including wills, power of attorney, healthcare directives, child custody agreements, etc., and is best done with the guidance of a local attorney.
In any case, without legislation to enforce the agreement, all such provisions of the partnership may be ignored by hospitals, healthcare professionals, or other persons, and may be held invalid by state courts in disputes over child custody or over a deceased partner's estate.
- 1 Terminology
- 2 Legal rights
- 3 Employment benefits
- 4 Cities and counties with domestic partnership registries
- 5 States offering domestic partnership status
- 6 Failed domestic partnership legislation
- 7 States with similar legal status
- 8 Similar legal status classifications
- 9 See also
- 10 References
As currently (2008) understood in the United States, a civil union is a legally recognized status almost identical to marriage, whereas domestic partnership often connotes a lesser status that may or may not be recognized by local law. However, the terminology is still evolving; the exact level of rights and responsibilities of domestic partnership depends on the particular law of a given jurisdiction.
Since 1999, the West Coast states of California, Oregon, and Washington have all passed domestic partnership statutes; in contrast, most legislatures in New England and New Jersey have preferred the term civil unions. However, as a result of the 1996 federal Defense of Marriage Act, no state is obliged to recognize a same-sex relationship formed in another state.
In many other countries, the equivalent legal status is referred to as registered partnership, and domestic partnership refers to cohabitation, rather than a legal status.
The legal rights afforded to partners depends on the location. State-level recognition of partners is, generally, significantly stronger and can help partners secure benefits such as leave similar to that provided under the [Family and Medical Leave Act]. The range of benefits is generally greater in such cities as San Francisco, New York City, and Washington, D.C.
Potential legal conflicts
Potentially serious legal issues arise from the conflict between state domestic partnership and same-sex-marriage laws, and the structure of U.S. federal law, which, under the Defense of Marriage Act, explicitly does not extend Federal law recognition to those unions. This means that, for example, though they may considered as spouses under the laws of some states, domestic partners do not have spousal rights to Social Security benefits, to spousal benefits in the other partner's pension from a private employer (if that pension is governed by ERISA), and will not be treated as spouses for purposes of any Federal tax law.
Some public- and private-sector U.S. employers provide health insurance or other spousal benefits to same-sex partners of employees, although the employee receiving benefits for his or her partner may have to pay income tax on the value of the benefit.
Partner benefits are more common among large employers, colleges and universities than at small businesses. The qualifications for and benefits of domestic partnership status vary from employer to employer; some recognize only same-sex or different-sex couples, while others recognize both.
According to data from the Human Rights Campaign Foundation, the majority of Fortune 500 companies provided benefits to same-sex partners of employees as of June 2006. Overall, 41 percent of HR professionals indicate that their organizations offered some form of domestic partner benefits (opposite-sex partners, same-sex partners or both).
The San Francisco Human Rights Commission maintains a list of health insurance providers that offer insurance plans that cover domestic partners, or employee+1 coverage online: Domestic partner insurance provider search. The Human Rights Campaign Foundation offers best practices on how to implement them (see: Domestic partner benefits).
Taxation of benefits
Because the U.S. Federal Government does not recognize same- or opposite-sex partners, tax benefits provided to opposite-sex spouses are generally not available to same-sex partners and spouses or opposite-sex partners. While there are certain exceptions, generally under the Internal Revenue Code Section 152 the imputed value of the benefit will be considered taxable income. For example if an employee covers his or her partner under an employer health insurance plan, the estimated amount the employer pays to cover the partner will be added to the employee’s salary for tax purposes, unless the employee's partner is a qualifying dependent under Section 152. The same is not true for married couples.
The proposed Tax Equity for Domestic Partner and Health Plan Beneficiaries Act would remove these tax inequities.
Cities and counties with domestic partnership registries
Some U.S. cities offer domestic partnership registries. Some private employers use domestic partnership registrations for the purpose of determining employee eligibility for domestic partner benefits.
New York City
Domestic partnerships in New York City  exist for same sex couples and opposite sex couples in which both are above the age of 18 and are New York City residents (or at least one party to the partnership is an employee of the City of New York). The status provides essentially three benefits: (1) the ability to remain in a “rent controlled” apartment after the domestic partner lease holder dies, (2) the ability to visit the domestic partner in a city hospital or jail and (3) the ability of city employees to obtain subsidized health insurance for their partners and to obtain the benefits of the Family Medical Leave Act. 
Signed into law by Rudolph Giuliani on July 7th 1997, the law codified executive orders by the previous two administrations. Other communities provide similar benefits; however one town, Eastchester, which had provided domestic partner benefits, has withdrawn the plan. State employees have received similar benefits under executive orders of the Governor and have been given priority over bodily remains of Domestic Partner as enacted into law by Gov. George Pataki in February 2006. For a discussion of both the history and implementation of New York Domestic partnerships see the June 2003 report of an official New York City Council study.
In 1982, a domestic partnership law was adopted and passed by the San Francisco Board of Supervisors, but Dianne Feinstein, mayor of San Francisco at the time, came under intense pressure from the Catholic Church and subsequently vetoed the bill. Not until 1989 was a domestic partnership law adopted in the city of San Francisco. As of December 2006, the city still offers a domestic partnership status separate from that offered by the state; city residents can apply for both.
Beginning in December 2007, Toledo became Ohio's second (and largest) city to offer domestic partnerships. The first city to offer domestic partnerships in that state was Cleveland Heights in 2003.
States offering domestic partnership status
Domestic partnerships in California exist for same-sex couples, and for opposite-sex couples in which one person is above the age of 62. The state of California first offered domestic partnerships in 2000. The Domestic Partner Rights and Responsibilities Act, which added nearly all the state rights and responsibilities of marriage to domestic partnerships was signed in 2003 and took effect in 2005. Couples in state registered domestic partnerships prior to 2005 who remained registered on January 1, 2005 became entitled to the rights and responsibilities of the new law. Paid Family Leave covers registered domestic partners.
District of Columbia
Domestic partnerships in District of Columbia have been recognized since 1992. Near spousal-level rights were given by a district vote in 2006.
Reciprocal beneficiary registration was enacted in 1997.
Domestic partnerships in Maine, enacted in 2004, exist for all couples, regardless of sex.
Domestic partnerships in New Jersey have been available since July 30 2004 for same-sex couples, and for opposite-sex couples in which one person is above the age of 62. However, on October 25 2006, the Supreme Court of New Jersey ruled that under the New Jersey state constitution, the state could not deny the benefits of marriage to same-sex couples, although the court left it up to the legislature whether to call such relationships marriage or to use a different term. Complying with the court's ruling, on December 14, 2006, the New Jersey Legislature passed a bill establishing civil unions for same-sex couples, which was signed into law by the governor on December 21 and came into effect on February 19, 2007.
House Bill 2007, the Oregon Family Fairness Act, created legal recognition for same-sex couples and their families through domestic partnerships. The bill was signed by Governor Ted Kulongoski on May 9, 2007, and was due to come into effect on the following January 1. However, on December 28, 2007, a federal judge delayed implementation of the law pending a hearing on the legality of a petition drive to overturn the law. On February 1, the judge lifted the injunction on the law. Same-sex couples were able to register beginning February 4.
The Washington State Legislature approved a bill establishing domestic partnerships in the state during the 2007 legislative session. The bill was signed by Governor Christine Gregoire.
Failed domestic partnership legislation
Template:Update Domestic partnerships in Alaska have been ordered by the Alaska Supreme Court for same-sex partners of state employees. It is set to become law October 2006. The court has not gone so far as to make any specific policies but has instructed the state legislature to pass a bill to the same effect. If this happens, it would make Alaska the first determinedly red state to enact same-sex benefits. It would also be the only state with a specific same-sex marriage ban to enact such benefits.
As of December 2006, legislative efforts to overturn or nullify the Supreme Court's ruling are underway, and the outcome is uncertain.
The Colorado House of Representatives and Senate both passed a domestic partnership bill that was referred to voters in the November 2006 elections as Referendum I. In the general election, the proposal was defeated by a margin of 47% for, 53% against. If it had passed, the bill would have allowed same-sex couples many benefits that opposite-sex couples enjoy in the state.
The Maryland General Assembly approved a bill establishing a limited form of domestic partnership in its 2005 session. The main effect of the law would have been to allow same-sex partners to have hospital visitation and medical decision-making rights for one another equivalent to those recognized for married couples. However, the bill was vetoed by Governor Robert L. Ehrlich, who reportedly objected to the bill's use of the phrase "life partner". The veto was not overridden.
States with similar legal status
- Same-sex marriage in California
- Civil unions in Connecticut
- Same-sex marriage in Massachusetts
- Same-sex marriage in New York
- Same-sex unions in Oregon
- Civil unions in Vermont
- Same-sex marriage in Washington
Similar legal status classifications
- Same-sex unions in the United States
- Same-sex marriage in the United States
- Rights and responsibilities of marriages in the United States
- History of civil marriage in the U.S.
- Gay rights in the United States
- Human Rights Campaign - Defining Domestic Partners for Benefits Purposes. Retrieved on 2008-03-06.
- Human Rights Campaign Foundation - State of the Workplace for Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual and Transgender Americans, 2005-2006
- Human Rights Campaign - GLBT Equality at the Fortune 500. Retrieved on 2008-03-09.
- Employees Undervalue Benefits, SHRM 2007 Survey Finds. Retrieved on 2008-03-09.
- Human Rights Campaign - What the Defense of Marriage Act Does
- Human Rights Campaign Foundation - Taxation of Domestic Partner Benefits
- Human Rights Campaign - Defining Domestic Partners for Benefits Purposes. Retrieved on 2008-03-06.
- GLBT Couples Law | news | NY Town Drops DP Benefits
- DOMESTIC BUT NOT EQUAL: Domestic partner benefits inconsistently applied at public agencies
- San Francisco Grants Recognition To Couples Who Aren't Married - New York Times
- Office of The County Clerk: Filing a Domestic Partnership Agreement
- toledoblade.com - Finkbeiner signs domestic-partner registry into law
- Domestic Partnership Registry
- Gay News From 365Gay.com
Template:Same-sex marriage in the United States