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A domestic partnership (known as Pairage) is a legal or personal relationship between individuals who live together and share a common domestic life but are not joined in a traditional marriage or a civil union. In some legal jurisdictions, domestic partners who live together for an extended period of time but are not legally entitled to common-law marriage may be entitled to legal protection in the form of a domestic partnership. Some domestic partners may enter into domestic partnership agreements in order to agree contractually to issues involving property ownership, support obligations, and similar issues common to marriage. (See effects of marriage and palimony.)

Some jurisdictions established domestic partnership relations by statute rather than through judicial decisions. One of the purposes of domestic partnership relation is to recognize the contribution of one partner to the property of the other. In the common law, devices such as the constructive trust are available to protect spouses in legal or common-law marriages. In civil law jurisdictions, such trusts are generally not available, prompting courts to find alternative ways to protect the partner who contributes to the other's property.

Although some jurisdictions have instituted domestic partnerships as a way to recognize same-sex unions, domestic partnerships may involve either different-sex or same-sex couples.

In the United States

Main article: Domestic partnerships in the United States

Origin of term in California municipalities

The phrases domestic partner and domestic partnership were first used to describe living arrangements in 1985, according to The American Heritage Book of English Usage. In that year, West Hollywood city council member John Heilman successfully introduced domestic partner legislation for city residents and employees that was passed by the city council and created the first domestic partnership registry.

However, that was not the first domestic partner law in the United States. After the 1979 death of Harvey Milk in San Francisco, gay rights activist Tom Brougham came up with a definition of domestic partnership that is now universally used, and was designed to include everything about marriage except sexual orientation. According to Brougham, the definition was that the couple must be more than 18 years old and mentally competent to make a contract. Furthermore, his position was that Domestic partners must publicly declare the partnership and pledge to be responsible for each other.

In 1982, Brougham's definition was first adopted and passed by the San Francisco Board of Supervisors, but Dianne Feinstein, mayor of San Francisco at the time, came under intense pressure from the Catholic Church and subsequently vetoed the bill. Not until 1989 was a domestic partnership law adopted in the city of San Francisco.[3]. As of December 2006, the city still offers a domestic partnership status separate from that offered by the state; city residents can apply for both.

In 1983 the City Council of Berkeley, California, under the leadership of Mayor Gus Newport, ordered their Human Relations and Welfare Commission to develop a domestic partnership proposal. The Commission appointed its Vice-Chair, Leland Traiman, a gay activist, to head the Domestic Partner Task Force and draft a policy. Working with Tom Brougham, members of the East Bay Lesbian/Gay Democratic Club, and attorney Matt Coles, the Domestic Partner Task Force drafted what has become the template for domestic partner/civil union policies around the world. The City of Berkeley's Human Relations and Welfare Commission held a public hearing early in 1984 on "Examining the Use of Marriage to Determine Benefits and Liabilities in Berkeley and the Alternatives." A policy was adopted by the Commission and presented to the City Council. A copy was sent to the Berkeley School Board. The City Council voted down the proposal, citing financial concerns. In August 1984, the Berkeley School Board enacted the policy by a 4 to 1 vote. The school board motion was made by Ethel Manheimer, a disabled lesbian.

In November 1984, all the city council members up for election who had voted against the policy lost reelection. Progressives from the Berkeley Citizens' Action (BCA) slate who replaced them had voiced strong support for a domestic partner policy. The East Bay Lesbian/Gay Democratic Club had worked hard to elect the BCA Slate. At the first meeting of the new City Council in December 1984, the Berkeley City Council, by a vote of 8 to 1, enacted a policy extending employee benefits to unmarried couples of any gender. The first couple to file for benefits under Berkeley's gender-neutral policy were activist and city employee Tom Brougham and his partner Barry Warren.

However, the City Council did not create a registry for domestic partners until 1991. October 11 of that year, 28 gay or lesbian couples and one heterosexual couple signed up. Tom and Barry were the first couple to put themselves on Berkeley's public registry of domestic partners. Leland Traiman and his partner, Stewart Blandón, were the third to do so. Also registering that day was the daughter of Loni Hancock, then-mayor of Berkeley.

California, statewide

Main article: Domestic partnership in California

On September 4, 2003 the California legislature passed an expanded domestic partnership bill, extending nearly all the legal rights of married couples to people in same-sex partnerships. This effectively transformed California domestic partnerships into civil unions. Potentially serious legal issues arise from the conflict between state domestic partnership and same-sex-marriage laws, and the structure of U.S. Federal law, which, under the Defense of Marriage Act, explicitly does not extend Federal law recognition to those unions. This means that, for example, though they may essentially be "married" under the law of some states, partners would not be entitled to spousal "collateral" rights to Social Security and will not be treated as "spouses" for purposes of any Federal tax law.

The State of California has developed an Online Self-Help Center that provides resources and information to assist domestic partners in many areas, including filing domestic partnerships, dissolving domestic partnerships,parenting issues, tax issues, and more.

District of Columbia

Main article: Domestic partnership in District of Columbia

Washington, D.C., has recognized domestic partnerships since 1992. However, congress prohibited the District from spending any local funds to implement the law. The prohibition was lifted in the federal appropriations act for the District for the 2002 fiscal year. Domestic partnership in the District is open to both same-sex and opposite-sex couples. All couples registered as domestic partners are entitled to the same rights as family members to visit their domestic partners in the hospital and to make decisions concerning the treatment of a domestic partner’s remains after the partner’s death. The measure also grants District of Columbia government employees rights to a number of benefits. Domestic partners are eligible for health care insurance coverage, can use annual leave or unpaid leave for the birth or adoption of a dependent child or to care for a domestic partner or a partner's dependents, and can make funeral arrangements for a deceased partner. The Domestic Partnership Equality Amendment Act of 2006, D.C. Law 16-79, came into effect on April 4, 2006. This act provides that in almost all cases a domestic partner will have the same rights as a spouse regarding inheritance, probate, guardianship, and other rights traditionally accorded to spouses [1].


Main article: Domestic partnership in Maine

In April, 2004 the legislature passed a domestic partnership bill. The law, which provides same-sex individuals with inheritance rights over their partners' property and guardianship over their deceased lover, went into effect on July 30, 2004 [2].


Main article: Domestic partnership in Oregon

The governor of Oregon, Ted Kulongoski, signed a domestic partnership bill bill into law on May 9th, 2007. Called the Oregon Family Fairness Act, the law would provide several major rights to same-sex couples that were previously only given to married couples, including the ability to file jointly on insurance forms, hospital visitation rights, and rights relating to the deceased partner. The law takes effect on January 1st, 2008 [3].


Main article: Domestic partnership in Washington

In the state of Washington, Governor Christine Gregoire (D) signed into law legislation allowing limited domestic partnership on April 21, 2007. The law, which will take effect in July 2007, permits same-sex couples (as well as heterosexual couples when one individual is at least age 62) to register in a Domestic Partnership registry which will allow couples hospital visitation rights, the ability to authorize autopsies and organ donations, and inheritance rights when there is no will.[4] This follows the 1998 passage of a bill by the Washington State legislature that defined marriage as being between a man and a woman; this legislation was upheld by the Washington State Supreme Court in 2006.[5] Washington State Senate Report

Other states

Unions in New Jersey, Connecticut and Vermont offer civil unions equivalent to marriage in all but the title, while only the state of Massachusetts offers full marriage rights to same-sex couples. New Hampshire will likely become the fourth US state to offer civil unions in 2007. The New Hampshire House of Representatives passed civil unions legislation on April 5, 2007 (243 votes for, 129 against), and the New Hamsphire Senate (14 votes for, 10 against) passed civil unions legislation on April 26, 2007. New Hampshire Governor John Lynch (D) stated on April 19, 2007, that he will sign the legislation.

The Oregon House of Representatives passed a comprehensive domestic partnership bill on April 17, 2007 by a vote of 34-26 (31 D, 3 R in favor; 0 D, 26 R against). The senate also endorsed the measure 21–9 (All Democrats + 2 Republicans in favor and 9 Republicans against it) on May 02, 2007, sending it to Gov. Ted Kulongoski, which has pledged to sign the legislation.

After passing both houses of the General Assembly, a referendum on domestic partnerships came before Colorado voters in November 2006, but was defeated, while the constitutional same-gender marriage ban passed on the same election.

In Business

At times in the business community there are discrimination issues at hand in domestic partner relationships. In the Western New York area, the Adelphia Cable Company sold out to Time-Warner. Adelphia Cable had a policy in place that gave insurance benefits to the domestic partner in a same sex relationship while not extending insurance coverage to the domestic partner in opposite sex relationships. Time-Warner has continued with this policy.

In Europe

Portugal, Hungary and Croatia have domestic partnerships, whereas most other nations in Europe recognize some form of civil unions, also called a registered partnership, or civil partnership for same-sex partners, which afford rights similar to marriage to LGBT couples.

In Hungary domestic partnership in the form of unregistered cohabitation offers a limited set of rights compared to marriage (more in the field of health and pension; but no inheritance), although a growing number of Hungarian couples (heterosexual included) choose this kind of partnership instead of marriage. Registration of partnerships is under consideration as part of the introduction of the new Civil Code, which is expected to be introduced in Parliament by the end of 2007. Some politicians of SZDSZ and MSZP argue for the introduction of same-sex marriage.

In Oceania

Main article: Same-sex marriage in Australia

In Australia, domestic partnerships are more commonly referred to as de facto (or defacto) relationships.

For further discussion surrounding de facto relationships and same-sex couples in Australia, also see: Human Rights and Equal Opportunity Commission, Same-sex Entitlements Report 2006


See also

LGBT rights
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History · Groups · Activists
Same-sex relationships
Opposition · Persecution
  • same-sex marriage
  • registered partnership
  • civil union
  • common law marriage - defacto partner
  • Domestic partnership in California
  • Same-sex marriage in California
  • Domestic partnership in Maine
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