A domestic partnership is a legal or personal relationship between two individuals who live together and share a common domestic life but are neither joined by marriage nor a civil union. However, in some jurisdictions, such as Australia, New Zealand, the United States of Oregon, Washington, Nevada, and California, a domestic partnership is almost equivalent to marriage, or to other legally recognized same-sex or different-sex unions. The terminology for such unions is still evolving, and the exact level of rights and responsibilities conferred by a domestic partnership varies widely from place to place.

Some legislatures have voluntarily established domestic partnership relations by statute instead of being ordered to do so by a court. Although some jurisdictions have instituted domestic partnerships as a way to recognize same-sex unions, domestic partnerships may involve either different-sex or same-sex couples.

In some legal jurisdictions, domestic partners who live together for an extended period of time but are not legally entitled to common-law marriage may be entitled to legal protection in the form of a domestic partnership. Some domestic partners may enter into domestic partnership agreements in order to agree contractually to issues involving property ownership, support obligations, and similar issues common to marriage. (See effects of marriage and palimony.)

One of the purposes of domestic partnership relation is to recognize the contribution of one partner to the property of the other. In the common law, devices such as the constructive trust are available to protect spouses in legal or common-law marriages. In civil law jurisdictions, such trusts are generally not available, prompting courts to find alternative ways to protect the partner who contributes to the other's property.

In the United States

Origin of term in law

In 1982, the term "domestic partner" was first used in a lawsuit filed by San Francisco Human Rights Commission employee Larry Brinkin. Brinkin, then an employee of Southern Pacific Railway, had recently suffered the loss of his partner of eleven years. When he was denied the three days of paid bereavement leave given to married employees, he filed suit with the assistance of the ACLU. Mr. Brinkin lost his case. Despite a great deal of evidence to the contrary, the judge agreed with his employer’s claim that there was no way to know if his relationship was legitimate.[1]

Origin of term in California municipalities

In August 1979, gay rights activist Tom Brougham proposed a new category of relationship called "domestic partnership".[2] Initially, the requirements were that only two people who resided together and were qualified to marry except that they were the same gender. Additional requirements were later added for the partners to maintain mutual financial responsibility and for both to be at least eighteen years old and able to enter into a legal contract.[3]


In 1983 the City Council of Berkeley, California, under the leadership of Mayor Gus Newport, ordered their Human Relations and Welfare Commission to develop a domestic partnership proposal. The Commission appointed its Vice-Chair, Leland Traiman, a gay activist, to head the Domestic Partner Task Force and draft a policy. Working with Tom Brougham, members of the East Bay Lesbian/Gay Democratic Club, and attorney Matt Coles, the Domestic Partner Task Force drafted what has become the template for domestic partner/civil union policies around the world. The City of Berkeley's Human Relations and Welfare Commission held a public hearing early in 1984 on "Examining the Use of Marriage to Determine Benefits and Liabilities in Berkeley and the Alternatives." A policy was adopted by the Commission and presented to the City Council. A copy was sent to the Berkeley School Board. In July 1984 the City Council voted down the proposal citing financial concerns. On August 1, 1984, the Berkeley School Board enacted the policy by a 4 to 1 vote. The school board motion was made by Ethel Manheimer, a disabled lesbian.

In November 1984, all the city council members up for election who had voted against the policy lost reelection. Progressives from the Berkeley Citizens' Action (BCA) slate who replaced them had voiced strong support for a domestic partner policy. The East Bay Lesbian/Gay Democratic Club had worked hard to elect the BCA Slate. This was the first time domestic partners was a campaign issue. At the first meeting of the new City Council in December 1984, the Berkeley City Council enacted a policy extending employee benefits to unmarried couples of any gender. The first couple to file for benefits under Berkeley's sex-neutral policy were Brougham and his partner Barry Warren.

However, the City Council did not create a registry for domestic partners until 1991. On October 11 of that year, 28 lesbian and gay male couples and one heterosexual couple registered their partnerships.

West Hollywood

In 1985, West Hollywood city council member John Heilman successfully introduced domestic partner legislation for city residents and employees that was passed by the city council and created the first domestic partnership registry.[2]

San Francisco

In 1982, Brougham's definition was modified by Supervisor Harry Britt, a gay man appointed to replace Harvey Milk. Britt's version 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 vetoed the bill. In 1989, a domestic partnership law was adopted in San Francisco.[4] However, voters repealed the domestic partnership law by initiative; a modified version was reinstated by another voter initiative, 1990's Proposition K, also written by Britt.[5][6] Currently, the city still offers a domestic partnership status separate and differing in benefits from that offered by the state; city residents can apply for both.[7]

California, statewide

In 1999 California Gov. Gray Davis, a Democrat, signed a domestic partner bill, making California the first state to legally recognize same-sex couples.

On September 4, 2003 the California legislature passed an expanded domestic partnership bill, extending nearly all the legal rights of married couples to people in same-sex partnerships. This erased all difference between California's domestic partnerships and civil unions passed in other states. California's comprehensive domestic partner policy was the first same-sex couples policy in the United States created by a legislature without court intervention. The policy became effective January 1, 2005.

Potentially serious legal issues arise from the conflict between state sponsored unions be they domestic partnership, civil unions, or same-sex-marriage and U.S. Federal law, which, under the Defense of Marriage Act, prohibits Federal recognition to those unions. This means that state sponsored domestic partners, civil unions and same-sex marriages are not entitled to any Federal spousal rights such as Social Security, Federal tax law or immigration rights for foreign same-sex spouses of American citizens.

The State of California has developed an Online Self-Help Center that provides resources and information to assist domestic partners in many areas, including filing domestic partnerships, dissolving domestic partnerships,parenting issues, tax issues, and more.


Since midnight July 1, 2009 unmarried couples have been legally able to enter a designated beneficiary agreement which will grant them limited rights.[8]

District of Columbia

Main article: Domestic partnership in District of Columbia

Washington, D.C., has recognized domestic partnerships since 1992. However, Congress prohibited the District from spending any local funds to implement the law. The prohibition was lifted in the federal appropriations act for the District for the 2002 fiscal year. Domestic partnership in the District is open to both same-sex and opposite-sex couples. All couples registered as domestic partners are entitled to the same rights as family members to visit their domestic partners in the hospital and to make decisions concerning the treatment of a domestic partner’s remains after the partner’s death. The measure also grants District of Columbia government employees rights to a number of benefits. Domestic partners are eligible for health care insurance coverage, can use annual leave or unpaid leave for the birth or adoption of a dependent child or to care for a domestic partner or a partner's dependents, and can make funeral arrangements for a deceased partner. The Domestic Partnership Equality Amendment Act of 2006, D.C. Law 16-79, came into effect on April 4, 2006. This act provides that in almost all cases a domestic partner will have the same rights as a spouse regarding inheritance, probate, guardianship, and other rights traditionally accorded to spouses.[9] D.C. Council on May 6, 2008 approved the addition of 39 new provisions to the city’s domestic partners law, bringing the law to a point where same-sex couples who register as domestic partners will receive most, but not quite all, of the rights and benefits of marriage under District law.[10]


In April, 2004 the legislature passed a domestic partnership bill. The law, which provides same-sex individuals with inheritance rights over their partners' property and guardianship over their deceased partner, went into effect on July 30, 2004. On May 6, 2009, Maine's legislature and governor enacted a law to legalize same-sex marriage, but on November 3, 2009, that law was repealed by voters.[11][12]


Since July 1, 2008, unmarried couples have been able to enter a designated unregistered beneficiary agreement which will grant them limited rights such as the right to visit one another in the hospital, the right to share a room in a nursing home, and the right to make funeral decisions [1].


In Nevada domestic partnerships will grant all the benefits, rights, obligations and/or responsibilities of marriage (for both opposite-sex couples and same-sex couples over 18) and these have become legally available since 1 October 2009.


The governor of Oregon, Ted Kulongoski, signed a domestic partnership bill into law on May 9, 2007. Called the Oregon Family Fairness Act, the law would provide several major rights to same-sex couples that were previously only given to married couples, including the ability to file jointly on insurance forms, hospital visitation rights, and rights relating to the deceased partner. The law's initial implementation was delayed by a federal Court, but the injunction was lifted on February 1, 2008 and the law went into effect on February 4.[13]


Main article: Domestic partnership in Washington

In the state of Washington, Governor Christine Gregoire signed into law legislation allowing limited domestic partnership on April 21, 2007. The law, which took effect July 22, 2007 and expanded to all areas except for marriage in 2008 and 2009, permits same-sex couples (as well as heterosexual couples when one individual is at least age 62) to register in a domestic partnership registry that allows couples hospital visitation rights, the ability to authorize autopsies and organ donations, and inheritance rights when there is no will.[14] This follows the 1998 passage of a bill by the Washington State legislature that defined marriage as being between a man and a woman; this legislation was upheld by the Washington State Supreme Court in 2006.[15] Washington State Senate Report


On March 5, 2009 Wisconsin Governor Jim Doyle proposed legislation for same-sex partnerships in Wisconsin.

In June 2009, the Wisconsin State Assembly and Senate both passed the biennial state budget which includes domestic partnership protections for the state’s same-sex couples.[16][17]

On June 29, 2009, Governor Jim Doyle signed the budget, giving final approval to limited domestic partnership benefits for same-sex couples living in Wisconsin.[18]

On July 23, 2009, three members of Wisconsin Family Action filed a petition for an original action in the Wisconsin Supreme Court, seeking a declaration that the domestic partner registry is unconstitutional under the state's Marriage Protection Amendment.[19]

Domestic Partnerships became available August 3, 2009.

Other states

Only New Jersey offer civil unions which, like California's domestic partners, are equivalent to marriage in all but the title. In 1994, Vermont became the first state in the United States to extend health benefits to domestic partners.

Only Massachusetts, Connecticut, Iowa, New Hampshire and Vermont now or will soon allow same-sex couple to marry; however, due to other states' constitutions and laws, and the federal "Defense of Marriage" law, these marriages may not be recognized as valid in other states and are not recognized by the federal government, and so may offer couples no more rights than California's domestic partners or other states' civil unions. Some municipalities in Massachusetts also provide Domestic Partnerships, as an alternative option to marriage. These include the cities of Boston[20][21] and Cambridge.[22][23]

In Ann Arbor, Michigan, the Ann Arbor City Council passed a domestic partner ordinance on November 4, 1991. This entitled Ann Arbor City employees to benefits for their partners, and enabled couples to register.

On December 2008, the Cleveland, Ohio City Council voted to create a non-binding domestic partner registry.[24]

For a full list of cities and counties see the following page: Cities and counties in the United States offering a domestic partnership registry

In Europe

Portugal, Hungary and Croatia have domestic partnerships, whereas most other nations in Europe recognize some form of civil unions, also called a registered partnership, or civil partnership for same-sex partners, which afford rights similar to marriage to LGBT couples.

In Hungary, since 1996 domestic partnership in the form of unregistered cohabitation offers a limited set of rights compared to marriage in a Civil Code (more in the field of health and pension; but no inheritance), although a growing number of Hungarian couples, both opposite-sex couples and same-sex couples choose this kind of partnership instead of marriage. In April 2009, the Hungarian Parliament passed a Registration Partnership Act 2009 with a vote of 199-159, which provides a registered partnership for same-sex couples with all the benefits and entitlements of marriage (except for marriage itself, adoption, IVF access, taking a partner's surname, parentage and surrogacy). The law was passed in December 2007 by a vote of 110-78, but the Constitutional Court of Hungary was "deeply concerned" that the law was a duplication of opposite-sex marriage benefits and entitlements, so same-sex couples only registration was chosen. Some politicians of the SZDSZ and MSZP parties have argued for the introduction of marriage for same-sex couples. The Registration Partnership Act 2009 comes into effect from July 1, 2009 [2].

In Oceania


See also: Same-sex marriage in Australia and Domestic partnership in Tasmania

In Australia, all levels of Governments, plus even some Councils, such as Yarra, Melbourne and Sydney, now offer "de facto/domestic status" or a "registered or civil partnership" to both same-sex couples and opposite-sex couples. Nevertheless, since 2009, the Australian Government amended 100 statutes to recognise both opposite and same gender couples, but still bans same-sex marriages under the Marriage Act 1961.

  • Australian Capital Territory (domestic partnership status provided from 1994 and Civil partnership provided since 2008).[25]
  • Commonwealth (federal Government of Australia provides both a de facto and registered partnership since 2009).
  • New South Wales (de facto status provided since 1999, expanded further in 2002, 2005 and 2008) [3].
  • Norfolk Island (de facto status provided from 2006).
  • Northern Territory (de facto status provided since 2003).
  • Queensland (de facto status provided since 1999, expanded further in 2002)[4].
  • South Australia (domestic partnership status provided since 2007).
  • Tasmania (de facto status provided from 2003, "Registry system/Significant Relationships" provided since 2004) Domestic partnership in Tasmania
  • Victoria (domestic partnership status provided since 2001 and a "registry system" has been provided since 2008).
  • Western Australia (de facto status provided since 2002).

New Zealand

Main article: Civil unions in New Zealand
See also: Same-sex marriage in New Zealand and LGBT rights in New Zealand

Since 2005, New Zealand has offered civil unions for all couples, whether same-sex or different-sex. The rights and responsibilities conferred by New Zealand civil unions are nearly identical to those of marriage, with the major exception that civil union couples are not allowed to adopt children jointly.

Latin America


The Civil Unions are allowed in Ciudad de Buenos Aires (Bs.As.), Villa Carlos Paz (Córdoba), Río Cuarto (Córdoba) and Río Negro.


Such behaviour is relatively common however it is not protected or recognized by any law.

See also


  1. Two Year Report on the San Francisco Equal Rights Ordinance
  2. 2.0 2.1 A Brief History of Domestic Partnerships
  3. By admin, on May 26th, 2010% (2010-05-26). Domestic-Partners. Divorce Law CA. Retrieved on 2010-06-11.
  4. Bishop, Katherine. "San Francisco Grants Recognition To Couples Who Aren't Married", 1989-05-31. 
  5. Bailey, Robert (1998). Gay Politics, Urban Politics. New York: Columbia University Press, 316. ISBN 9780231096638. 
  6. Reinhold, Robert. "Campaign Trail; 2 Candidates Who Beat Death Itself", 1990-10-30. 
  7. Filing a Domestic Partnership Agreement. San Francisco Office of the City Clerk. Retrieved on 2008-11-19.
  8. "Ritter signs bill that will help gay couples", Associated Press, The Denver Post, 2009-04-09. Retrieved on 2009-04-10. 
  9. DOH: Vital Records - Domestic Partnership FAQ
  10. D.C. Council expands DP law - Washington Blade
  11. Susan M. Cover. "Mainers vote down gay marriage law", 4 November 2009. Retrieved on 4 November 2009. "The measure is repealed in a close vote, 53-47 percent" 
  12. EqualityMaine - Maine's Domestic Partner Law
  13. "Oregon Gov. Signs Gay Rights Bills" ([dead link]Scholar search) (2007-05-09). Retrieved on 2007-05-13. 
  14. Gregoire signs domestic partnership measure into law. Retrieved on May 25, 2007.
  15. State's high court upholds ban on gay marriage. Retrieved on April 23, 2007.
  20. City of Boston Clerk Services.
  21. City of Boston Ordinance Ch 12-9A Protection of Families.
  22. City of Cambridge Domestic Partnerships.
  23. City of Cambridge Domestic Partnership Ordinance.
  24. Cleveland council votes to enact domestic partner registry

External links

Wikiquote has a collection of quotations related to:

v  d  e  
LGBT and Queer studies
Rainbow flag flapping in the wind.jpg

Wikipedialogo.png This page uses content from Wikipedia. The original article was at Domestic partnership. The list of authors can be seen in the page history.. As with LGBT Info, the text of Wikipedia is available under the Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0.