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social sciences

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Domestic Partnerships  
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Although many religious denominations refuse to allow same-sex marriages, some denominations do allow their clergy to perform marriages, or at least "holy unions" (the religious equivalent of a domestic partnership). The United States government, whether state or federal, has no authority to prohibit same-sex religious marriages, but is also not obliged to recognize such marriages.

Civil marriage requires a ceremony with an officiant, but it is devoid of religious content. This is the type of marriage that same-sex marriage activists tend to advocate. But common law marriage is another option as well. Common law marriage does not require a marriage certificate or any sort of ceremony but instead provides the benefits of marriage to any couple who has lived together and been jointly financially responsible for a certain number of years (the number varies by jurisdiction).

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Under common law marriage, many same-sex couples should be considered married, but are not, simply because of their gender. Recognition of these relationships as marriages would be a great advance from most domestic partnerships, though neither quite as beneficial nor quite as controversial as legalizing civil marriages.

Domestic Partnerships outside the United States

The domestic partnership was common in some Canadian provinces until the recent attainment of marriage equality in that country. Other countries that offer extensive domestic partnership benefits, or indeed arrangements more beneficial than domestic partnership, include Denmark, France, Greenland, Hungary, Iceland, portions of Italy, and Norway. The Netherlands, Belgium, Canada, Spain, Sweden, and Norway permit same-sex marriage. The United Kingdom offers civil partnerships that are equivalent to marriage in rights and responsibilities, but lack the religious element that is an option for heterosexually married couples.

Argentina, Australia, Israel, New Zealand, and South Africa require that employers offer some benefits for domestic partners. More limited domestic partnership benefits are available in Austria, Belgium, Brazil, Colombia, the Czech Republic, Germany, and Portugal, As the European Union moves to require its member states to enforce its guarantees of equal rights, the number of states that recognize domestic partnerships is likely to grow.

Mikaila Mariel Lemonik Arthur

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social sciences >> Overview:  Civil Union

Vermont's Civil Union law conferred all the rights, benefits, and responsibilities of marriage on same-sex couples.

social sciences >> Overview:  Commitment Ceremonies

Similar to heterosexual weddings, commitment ceremonies of same-sex partnerships are legally recognized in some countries, but generally not in the United States.

social sciences >> Overview:  Family

Many glbtq people reject a fixed definition of family imposed by society, and instead claim the right to define their own families as they choose.

social sciences >> Overview:  Gay Rights Movement, U. S.

The U.S. gay rights movement has made significant progress toward achieving equality for glbtq Americans, and in the process has become more inclusive and diverse, but much remains to be done.

social sciences >> Overview:  Organized Labor

Early in the gay rights movement activists challenged organized labor to broaden its struggle against discrimination to include sexual identity; consequently labor unions became some of the first mainstream organizations to call for equal rights.

social sciences >> Overview:  Same-Sex Marriage

Lesbian and gay couples have been fighting for the freedom to marry since the dawn of the modern glbtq struggle for equality; despite some success abroad, progress toward same-sex marriage in the United States has been slow.

social sciences >> Overview:  Switzerland

Switzerland is a very cosmopolitan nation with a vibrant glbtq community, but it has lagged behind much of Europe, particularly the Nordic countries, when it comes to assuring equal rights.

social sciences >> Overview:  Workplace Discrimination

Although work remains to be done, the expansion of protection from workplace discrimination based on sexual orientation stands as one of the significant accomplishments of the American lesbian and gay civil rights movement.

social sciences >> ACLU LGBT & AIDS Project

For more than four decades, the ACLU has been at the forefront of litigation and education designed to secure glbtq rights on a variety of fronts.

social sciences >> Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA)

The Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) authorizes states to refuse to recognize same-sex marriages or domestic partnerships or civil unions and it requires that federal bureaus and agencies recognize only opposite-sex marriages.

social sciences >> Empire State Pride Agenda

The Empire State Pride Agenda, which lobbies New York governments at both state and local levels for equal rights, is recognized as among the strongest statewide glbtq political organizations in the United States.

social sciences >> Equality California (EQCA)

Equality California (EQCA) is one of the largest and fastest growing statewide glbtq advocacy and civil rights organizations in the United States.

social sciences >> Human Rights Campaign (HRC)

The largest glbtq political organization in the United States, the Human Rights Campaign has emerged as the leading national organization representing glbtq concerns.

social sciences >> National Center for Lesbian Rights

Founded in 1977 as the Lesbian Rights Project, the National Center for Lesbian Rights is a public interest law firm committed to advancing the civil and human rights of glbtq people through litigation, advocacy, and education.

social sciences >> Pocan, Mark

A former seven-term member of the Wisconsin Assembly, Mark Pocan easily won election to the U.S. House of Representatives in 2012.

social sciences >> Proposition 8 (California)

Proposition 8, also known as the California Marriage Protection Act, was the ballot proposition that amended the California state constitution to ban same-sex marriage; after prolonged litigation in both state and federal court, it was finally struck down in June 2013.

social sciences >> Ride, Sally

Sally Ride made history as the first American woman in space when she flew as a mission specialist aboard Challenger in 1983; her lesbianism was not widely known until shortly after her death.

social sciences >> Whipple, Diane

Diane Whipple, the coach of the women's lacrosse team at Saint Mary's College in California, was killed in a dog-mauling; the response of her partner helped establish the right of same-sex partners to equal treatment with heterosexuals.

social sciences >> Wolfson, Evan

Evan Wolfson has participated in some of the crucial legal battles in the struggle for glbtq rights, and has been particularly visible in the quest for marriage equality.


Andens, Mass Tnnesson and Robert Wintemute. The Legal Recognition of Same-Sex Partnerships: A Study of National, European, and International Law. Oxford: Hart Press, 2001.

Hollingdale, Linda. Creating Civil Union: Opening Hearts and Minds. Hinesburg, Vt.: Common Humanity Press, 2002.

Khon, Sally. The Domestic Partnership Organizing Manual for Employees.

Renzetti, Claire, and Charles Harvey Miley. Violence in Gay and Lesbian Domestic Partnerships. Binghamton, N. Y.: Harrington Park Press, 1996.

Strasser, Mark. On Same-Sex Marriage, Civil Unions, and the Rule of Law: Constitutional Interpretation at the Crossroads. Westport, Conn.: Praeger, 2002,

Whitacre, Diane. Will You Be Mine? Domestic Partnership San Francisco City Hall, February 14, 1991. San Francisco: Crooked Street Press, 1993.


    Citation Information
    Author: Arthur, Mikaila Mariel Lemonik  
    Entry Title: Domestic Partnerships  
    General Editor: Claude J. Summers  
    Publication Name: glbtq: An Encyclopedia of Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual,
Transgender, and Queer Culture
    Publication Date: 2004  
    Date Last Updated September 1, 2009  
    Web Address  
    Publisher glbtq, Inc.
1130 West Adams
Chicago, IL   60607
    Today's Date  
    Encyclopedia Copyright: © 2002-2006, glbtq, Inc.  
    Entry Copyright © 2004, glbtq, inc.  


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