Domestic Partners

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Domestic Partnerships
Domestic Partnership Benefits

Domestic Partnerships


Some governmental units (primarily cities so far) have passed laws providing for domestic partnerships. Domestic partnerships can be used by homosexual couples and by heterosexual couples who are living together without being married. To become domestic partners, the couple usually must register their relationship at a government office and declare that they are in a "committed" relationship.

Domestic partnerships provide some--but not all--of the legal benefits of marriage. Some of the common benefits are:

Domestic partnership laws are not uniform. The level of benefits varies with the jurisdiction that enacted the laws.

Even without domestic partnership laws, some insurance companies will offer family rates on health and auto policies to unmarried couples who demonstrate a long-term, financially interdependent relationship.

© 1995, 2000 American Bar Association

Domestic Partnership Benefits


Learn about the benefits of domestic partnerships -- and whether they may be available to you.

Despite the fact that an estimated mere 10% of American families are made up of a working husband, a stay-at-home wife, and children, our legal and social systems still provide benefits and protections based on that model. Having been left out, lesbian and gay activists in the early 1980s sought recognition of their relationships and new definitions of family. This is how domestic partnerships were born. Domestic partners are unmarried couples -- same sex or opposite sex -- who live together and seek economic and noneconomic benefits granted their married counterparts. These benefits include:

When a state, municipality, county, organization, private company, or university or college considers providing domestic partnership benefits, it must address several important issues: Who qualifies as a domestic partner -- should heterosexual couples be covered as well as gay and lesbian couples? How will an employer identify the employee's domestic partner -- by registration? Must the couple be together a minimum number of years? Must the couple live together? Must they share expenses? Must they be financially responsible for each other? How does a couple terminate their domestic partnership? (Note that even though most domestic partnership applications ask you to state that you are financially responsible for each other's needs, these applications are generally not considered binding contracts of support.)

The Domestic Partnership Organizing Manual for Employee Benefits , published by the Policy Institute of the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force. You can download it from the NGLTF website at www.ngltf.org/library/dp_pub.htm .

In 1982, the Village Voice newspaper became the first private company to offer its employees domestic partnership benefits. The City of Berkeley was the first municipality to do so in 1984. In 1995, Vermont became the first state to extend domestic partnership benefits to its public employees. In 1997, Hawaii became the first state to extend domestic partnership benefits to all same-sex couples throughout the state.

Today, a number of states and hundreds of municipalities, counties, private companies, organizations, colleges and universities offer domestic partnership benefits. The complete list of institutions is extensive; the benefits offered by each is not, however. In some cases, all that is offered is bereavement or sick leave. In other situations, the benefits offered are comprehensive -- but also costly. Often, either the employee foots the bill for his or her partner, or the company pays (when it also pays for spouses), but the employee must pay taxes on the benefits. This is because the IRS considers benefits awarded to an unmarried partner as taxable compensation.

For a list of states, municipalities and other entities offering domestic partnership benefits, as well as legal updates affecting this issue, visit the domestic partnership section of the Lambda Legal Defense and Education website at www.lambdalegal.org . Another excellent source of information on domestic partnership benefits is the Human Rights Campaign's WorkNet website at www.hrc.org/worknet . For more information on private companies that offer domestic partnership benefits, you can visit the Alternatives to Marriage website at www.unmarried.org.
Source: family.findlaw.com/marriage/living-together/domestic-partner-benefits.html

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