A civil union is the legal recognition of a type of relationship between adults. In most states, partners in civil unions receive some—but not all—of the benefits of marriage. However, both before and after the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision effectively legalizing same-sex marriage, some states passed laws to convert civil unions into marriages. Which states passed this type of legislation? And why does it matter?
No state in the nation allows people to get married if they are already in a marriage that has not legally ended. In fact, when this happens, it is known as “bigamy,” making the second marriage null and void. Why do you think the government cares whether citizens are married to more than one person at a time?
Marriage in America
Traditionally, the institution of marriage has driven many benefits in American society. Marital partners have many rights that unmarried couples lack, such as inheritance rights, rights relating to health care, and rights triggered by legal separation or divorce. If we were allowed to enter into multiple valid marriages, governments and employers could be required to provide these same benefits to all of our spouses. As a result, the government cares about bigamy.
A few states have (or have had) laws that recognize alternative forms of relationships between adults. One of those alternative relationships is called a “civil union.” Entering into a Same-sex union in the United States confers benefits on a couple that often parallel those available to a married couple. However, the specific benefits received by the couple depend on state law. Civil unions are currently offered in Colorado, Hawaii, Illinois, and New Jersey.
Civil unions used to be allowed in several other states, including:
- New Hampshire,
- Rhode Island, and
However, since the U.S. Supreme Court’s landmark decision in Obergefell v. Hodges (effectively legalizing gay marriage), these five states have enacted laws that converted existing civil unions to marriages. These states no longer allow couples to enter into new civil unions.
If you need insight into how your state’s marriage or civil union laws impact you, contact a family law attorney licensed in your state for more information.