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Note: Recognition of Civil Unions and Domestic Partnerships as Marriages in Same-Sex Marriage States

By Inga Nelson. Full text here.

There is currently a patchwork of laws governing same-sex relationships across the United States. Some states issue marriage licenses, while some states have civil unions, domestic partnerships, or other forms of legal recognition. When couples with alternate forms of legal recognition relocate from the issuing state their new state has to decide whether and how to recognize those relationships. Currently, same-sex marriage jurisdictions utilize a host of different approaches, which results in a lack of uniform treatment of similarly situated couples. One of these approaches is for same-sex marriage states to treat alternate forms of recognition as marriages. This Note argues that treating out-of-state civil unions and domestic partnerships as marriages creates three fundamental problems. First, it ignores the fact that individuals enter into these relationships with different expectations and understandings about their scope than married couples do. Second, it can result in fewer protections for some couples. Third, it reduces the political will to advocate for the expansion of marriage rights. This Note proposes specific model legislation—which should be passed in same-sex marriage states—which creates a system of recognition for a limited time after the couple relocates to guarantee continued protections and mechanisms for conversion to marriage or dissolution of the alternate relationship.