Civil union, civil partnership, domestic partnership, registered partnership, unregistered partnership, and unregistered cohabitation statuses offer some of the legal benefits of marriage and are available to same-sex couples. We are in a tremendous period of change. President Barack Obama has come out in favor of full legal recognition of same-sex marriage. Former President Bill Clinton, who signed the Defense of Marriage Act denying federal recognition to same-sex married couples, now says it is inconsistent with our Constitutional rights (and the US Supreme Court concurred that DOMA is unconstitutional). Colorado has recently legalized civil unions, and marriage equality was finally recognized by the U.S. Supreme Court in June of 2015. Our culture is undergoing a huge change!

  • “Same-sex marriage” means legal marriage between people of the same sex. Massachusetts (since 2004), Connecticut (since 2008), Iowa, and Vermont (both since 2009) offer full legal recognition and marriage licenses to same-sex couples. California’s 2007 gay marriage bill (voided by a 2008 referendum) was reinstated by a 2013 Supreme Court decision. Same-sex marriage is now legal in all 50 states.
  • “Civil union” is a category of law that was created to extend “back-of-the-bus” rights to same-sex couples. These limited rights are recognized only in your home state but otherwise include most of the legal rights afforded heterosexual couples. New Jersey (since 2006), and New Hampshire (since 2007) allow civil unions; On May 1, 2013, Colorado joined the growing roster of states recognizing civil unions. The legalization of gay marriage makes civil unions unnecessary now.
  • “Domestic partnership” is a new category of law that was created to extend limited rights to unmarried couples, including (but not necessarily limited to) same-sex couples. Laws vary depending on the states, townships and counties. Hawaii has a “reciprocal beneficiaries law” which is a domestic partnership. Whatever patchwork of “rights” you may have under a domestic partnership law change every time you move to a different locale. Statewide laws in Hawaii, Maine, Oregon, Washington, and district-wide laws in the District of Columbia, confer certain spousal rights to same-sex couples. If you live in Denver, you can still register as domestic partners instead of getting married. Information about this process is available at:

The most significant difference between marriage and civil unions (or domestic partnerships) is that only marriage offers federal benefits and protections.

The U.S. General Accounting Office (GAO) states that more than 1,100 rights and protections are bestowed upon U.S. citizens upon marriage. Areas affected include Social Security benefits, veterans’ benefits, health insurance, Medicaid, hospital visitation, estate taxes, retirement savings, pensions, family leave, and immigration law. Before choosing a domestic partnership locally, be sure you understand the legal difference.