Relationships between adults committed to one another are largely governed by state law. The longest established of these is the marriage, which was traditionally defined as between members of the opposite sex. Before the U.S. Supreme Court mandated that states allow same-sex couples to marry in 2015, some states began to give same-sex couples alternate ways to make their relationships legal, largely in the form of civil unions and domestic partnerships. Some cities and counties even began to allow domestic partnerships. This created a patchwork of options for same-sex couples in the locations that offered alternatives to marriage.
Couples who entered into civil unions under state law generally obtained more significant rights than those who entered into domestic partnerships. You can read more about civil unions at An Overview of Civil Unions and Their (Sometimes) Transition to Marriage. If you are interested in learning more about domestic partnerships, continue reading.
How many states recognize domestic partnerships?
A domestic partnership in the United States allows a couple to formalize their commitment to one another. At the time of writing this article, 11 states allow same-sex couples to enter into domestic partnerships:
- New Jersey
- New York
- Washington (limited to same-sex couples and heterosexual couples where one partner is older than 62)
The District of Columbia also offers domestic partnership status to same-sex couples. Some of these entities also allow domestic partnership status to opposite-sex couples.
In states that do not recognize domestic partnerships, many county and city governments have chosen to establish domestic partnership registries for same-sex couples, such as New York City. This allows partners to receive certain government benefits, such as rent-controlled apartment living and the right to visit a domestic partner who is in city-owned hospital or jail.
Even where domestic partnerships are legal, they do not provide their members with any of the rights and responsibilities given to married couples under federal law. And domestic partnership state laws vary widely, so the term “domestic partnership” may mean one thing in one geographic location and something else in another.
If you are interested in learning more about domestic partnerships in your state, contact a licensed family lawyer where you live. An experienced family attorney can advise you about options available to you even in locations where domestic partnership may not be recognized.