Civil Unions are legal contracts brought about by a voluntary union for life (or until divorce) of same-sex couples. These unions are recognized by state governments, appointing similar legal rights and benefits that a contract of marriage would provide. Although, civil unions do not take affiliation with religion, as does marriage. Civil unions are also known, in some states and countries, as domestic partnerships. The two terms are interchangeable, when relating to laws and regulations.
In 1989 the country of Denmark contracted civil unions to allow same-sex couples rights similar to those of married couples. In 2000, Vermont was the first state to create civil unions in the United States. The state allowed same-sex couples to have some legal rights and responsibilities, although the rights did not extend past Vermont’s state borders. Civil unions currently exist in very few states. Oregon, New Hampshire, Vermont and Iowa are currently four of those states. The civil unions projected from each given state are not standardized at this time. Each state has a different list of benefits and responsibilities that are given to the contracted couple.
To date, it is not legal for same-sex couples to marry under the United States Federal Government (Defense of Marriage Act – 1996); therefore, states have had to make decisions whether to add, or not add, civil unions as legality within each individual state’s law system.
There are several differences between the contract of marriage and a civil union:
Taxes – As a civil union is not recognized at a Federal level, same-sex couples cannot file joint tax returns, as a married couple would. This also means that civil union does not recognize any tax breaks or protections, as marriage would provide.
Illness/Sick Leave – Marriage allows for the opposite partner to be added to their insurance policy. Currently, this is not the case with civil unions. Civil Unions also will not allow a partner to make emergency medical decisions for their partner, or take leave of work for partner illness. Marriage allows both of these benefits. Civil unions have been amended to allow for portions of these benefits to exist, but not in full capacity.
It can be important for a same-sex couple in a civil union to contact a lawyer to set up a ‘Medical Power of Attorney’ statement and a Living Will, otherwise, some requests may be challenged in an emergency setting. As with any Power of Attorney or Living Will, a court can always contest, although most are treated with professional respect.
Termination/Divorce – To terminate a marriage contract, a judicial sequence of events, in and out of the court system, must take place. With most civil unions (if children are not involved), there need not be any judicial action taken. At most, a civil union will require a signature from both parties, although a reason for separation is not necessary.
There are numerous differences between the contracts of marriage and civil union. In being knowledgeable of your rights and the steps that should be taken before emergency situations occur are important. A civil union is but a contract that may need additional legal follow-up to make complete with any court system.
Steven Medvin is the Executive Director of SMP Advance Funding, LLC, which provides lawsuit funding to individuals who need a lawsuit loan for pending lawsuits. For more information please visit: http://www.smpadvance.com