Civil union

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Template:Civil union A civil union is one of several terms for a civil status similar to marriage, typically created for the purposes of allowing same-sex couples access to the benefits enjoyed by married opposite-sex couples (see also same-sex marriage); it can also be used by opposite-sex couples who do not prefer to enter into the legal institution of marriage but who would rather be in a union more similar to a common-law marriage.

Many different types of civil unions exist. Some are identical to marriage in nearly every respect except name; some have many but not all of the rights accorded to married couples (sometimes called registered partnerships); some are simple registries (also called domestic partnerships.)

Some jurisdictions that have passed civil unions include Vermont (2000) and Connecticut (2005) in the United States; Quebec and Nova Scotia in Canada; France and Denmark (1989), Norway (1993), Sweden (1994), Iceland (1996), Finland (2000), Germany (2001), Portugal (2001), the Swiss canton of Zürich (2002), the Argentine city of Buenos Aires (2003), and New Zealand (2005) and the Australian state of Tasmania (2004).

In 2001, the Netherlands gave same-sex marriage equal status with opposite-sex marriage, in addition to its 1998 "registered partnership" law (civil union) for both same-sex and opposite-sex couples. Belgium did likewise in 2003. Between June 2003 and June 2005, courts in eight provinces and one territory of Canada extended marriage to include same-sex couples. Bill C-38, extending same-sex marriage throughout Canada, became law in 2005. Gay marriage is also legal in the U.S. state of Massachusetts. See same-sex marriage.

A much larger number of jurisdictions, largely individual municipalities and counties, have passed rules to register same-sex unions; for information on this, see domestic partnership.

In July 2004, the U.S. state of New Jersey enacted a law that is virtually the same as a typical civil union, giving same-sex couples most of the rights associated with marriage. Although the state government uses the term domestic partnership to denote these new unions, the law in fact gives many more rights than those given by the domestic partnerships of most other jurisdictions, and so the New Jersey situation is more often related to civil unions.

In November 2004, the United Kingdom passed a law using the terminology civil partnership, conferring the legal rights associated with marriage to registered gay couples.


Canada

Main article: Same-sex marriage in Canada

Although marriage is defined by federal law in Canada, it and other vital statistics are administered by the provinces. The M. v. H. decision of the Supreme Court of Canada extended common-law marriage to include same-sex couples. As of July 2005, marriage is defined as a union of two persons irrespective of gender. Therefore civil unions are no longer an issue.

External link: Canadian Department of Justice: Marriage and Legal Recognition of Same-sex Unions, A Discussion Paper (November 2002)

Alberta

In response to the passage of the Civil Marriage Act in the Canadian House of Commons, the Albertan government actively considered replacing civil marriage with civil union for both opposite-sex and same-sex couples as probably the only legal means of preventing same-sex "marriages" from taking place in Alberta. The ruling Alberta Progressive Conservatives subsequently acknowledged that they would be unable to prevent them.

Quebec

Main article: Civil unions in Quebec

Pursuant to a range of activism and to the M. v. H. decision, the province of Quebec's legislature voted unanimously to create a status of civil union, available to both opposite-sex and same-sex couples and largely having the same rights as marriage, by modifying the Civil Code of Quebec. The law was enacted on June 24, 2002. See: Civil Code of Quebec [CCQ] (Book 2: 'The Family', Title One.1, arts. 521.1 to 521.19).

Nova Scotia

On June 4, 2001, Nova Scotia became the first province in Canada to register same-sex relationships. The registration, which carries a fee of $15 Canadian dollars, is for a "domestic partnership" at the Office of Vital Statistics. However, unlike other "domestic partnerships" at the civic level, this has a force similar to that of marriage because it is registered with the same authority that registers marriages, and because it gives the couple access to some 20 of the most important matrimonial laws.

External link: Information from Religious Tolerance.org (scroll down)

Denmark

Main article: Civil unions in Denmark

Civil unions were introduced in Denmark by law on June 7, 1989, the world's first such law. It has the form of a registered partnership (Danish: "registreret partnerskab"), but has almost all the same qualities as marriage. It provides all the same legal and fiscal rights and obligations that come with a heterosexual marriage, with four exceptions:

  • registered partners cannot adopt, with the exception that one party can adopt the biological children of the other
  • registered partners cannot have joint custody of a child, except by adoption
  • laws making explicit reference to the sexes of a married couple don't apply to registered partnerships
  • regulations by international treaties do not apply unless all signatories agree.

Registered partnership is by civil ceremony only. The Danish state church has yet to decide how to handle the issue, but the general attitude of the church seems positive but hesitant. Some priests perform blessings of gay couples, and this is accepted by the church, which states that the church blesses people, not institutions.

Divorce for registered partners follow the same rules as ordinary divorces.

Only citizens of Denmark, the Netherlands, Sweden, Norway and Iceland can enter into a registered partnership in Denmark. This list is adjusted whenever a new country legalizes same-sex unions. This rule excludes foreigners from gaining a registered partnership status that would not be legally recognised in their home country or state.

As of January 1, 2002, there were more than 2,000 registered partnerships in Denmark, of which 220 had children.

Official links:

France

Main article: Pacte civil de solidarité

The French law providing benefits to same-sex couples also applies to opposite-sex couples who choose this form of partnership over marriage. Known as the Pacte civil de solidarité (PACS), it is more easily dissolved than the divorce process applying to marriage. Tax and immigration benefits accrue only after the contract has been in effect for three years. The partners are required to have a common address, making it difficult for foreigners to use this law as a means to a residence permit, and difficult for French citizens to gain the right to live with a foreign partner.

Germany

Main article: Civil unions in Germany

A law about registered partnerships between members of the same sex took effect on August 1, 2001. It was challenged before the Constitutional Court, because the German constitution contains the sentence "marriage and family enjoy the special protection of the state". The Constitutional Court ruled July 17, 2002 that the new law does not lower the protection of marriage and family and let the law stand.

Couples entering registered partnerships are required to support each other financially. A non-working partner receives the same coverage from the other partner's health insurance as would apply to a marital spouse. Registered partners also enjoy the same rights as married couples when it comes to inheritance law (but not inheritance taxes) and the right to refuse testimony in court.

Germans can enter registered partnerships with non-Germans who then gain the right to live and work in Germany. They may become German citizens after three years of residency and two years after the partnership took effect. Non-Germans can also enter registered partnerships with other foreigners, who then also receive residence and work permits, under certain conditions, provided at least one of the partners already legally resides in Germany. The partnerships enjoy full equality with married couples in the area of state pensions. While joint adoption is not allowed, it is permitted to adopt one's step-child if this is a natural-born descendant of one's partner, and if the other biological parent agrees to relinquish parental status.

In tax law, as well as in the salaries of civil servants, marriages still have a significant advantage over registered partnerships, since these laws required the approval of the Bundesrat to be changed. The majority parties in the Bundestag do not have the necessary votes in the Bundesrat to pass legislation in these areas. Supporters of registered partnerships hope that the supreme court will remove this disparity before long.

See also: Life Partnership Act, Civil unions in Germany or the German language article Lebenspartnerschaft

New Zealand

Main article: Civil union in New Zealand

On 9 December 2004 the New Zealand Parliament passed the Civil Union Bill, establishing civil unions for same-sex and opposite-sex couples. The debate over Civil Unions was highly divisive in New Zealand, inspiring great public emotion both for and against the passing, and in the build up to the vote, there were many widespread instances of anti-gay and lesbian attacks, protests and rallies as a way of dissuading public favour. Many Christian and civic groups conducted organised campaigns against the Bill, but several Christian organisations also organised campaigns in favour of the Bill. The Civil Union Act came into effect on 26 April 2005 with the first unions able to occur from Friday 29 April 2005.

See also Brian Tamaki.

Switzerland

On September 22, 2002, voters in the canton of Zürich voted to extend a number of marriage rights to same-sex partners, including tax, inheritance, and social security benefits. Partners must both live in the canton and formally commit themselves six months in advance to running a household and supporting and aiding one another.

External link: PlanetOut News story

Template:Wikinews On June 5, 2005 voters extended this right to the whole of Switzerland, through a federal referendum. This was the first time that the population of a whole country affirmed civil union laws.

United Kingdom

Main article: Civil unions in the United Kingdom

In 2003, the UK government announced plans to introduce 'civil partnerships' which would allow same-sex couples the same rights as a marriage. The Civil Partnership Bill was introduced into the House of Lords on March 30, 2004. After considering amendments made by the House of Commons, it was passed by the House of Lords, its final legislative hurdle, on November 17, 2004, and received Royal Assent on November 18. The Act comes into force on 5 December 2005, so same-sex, but not opposite-sex, couples will be able to form the first civil partnerships on 21 December 2005. [1] Separate provisions were included in the first Finance Act 2005 to allow regulations to be made to amend tax laws to give the same tax advantages and disadvantages to couples in civil partnerhsips as apply to married couples.

In order to counter claims that this is instituting same-sex marriage, government spokespersons have emphasised that civil partnership is quite separate from marriage. In practice the differences are as follows:

  • A civil partnership becomes legal on the signing of a register, rather than on the speaking of certain words as with marriage.
  • It will not be possible to dissolve a civil partnership on the grounds of non-consummation or adultery, although it should be noted that both non-consumation and adultery can be grounds for dissolution of the partnership as they fall under the provision for unreasonable behavior.
  • The legal definition of a traditional marriage is "life long" whereas the wording of civil partnerships is "long term" and "intended to be permanent".

Apart from the differences outlined above and the use of the word "marriage", civil partnerships and marriages give exactly the same legal rights and operate under the same constrictions and it is not legal to be in both a civil partnership and a marriage at the same time. This fact has been used by right wing and Christian groups [2] as evidence that this is merely a quiet way of instituting gay marriage and have lobbied for a lesser form of legal recognition to preserve the uniqueness of marriage under the law.

Conversely, many who are in favour of legal same-sex marriage object that civil partnerships fall short of granting equality. They see legal marriage and civil parterships as artificially segregated institutions, and draw parallels with the racial segregation of the United States' past.

United States

Main article: Same-sex marriage in the United States

Vermont

The controversial civil unions law enacted in Vermont in 2000 was passed as a response to the Vermont Supreme Court ruling in Baker v. Vermont requiring that the state grant same-sex couples the same rights and privileges accorded to married couples under the law. There are still many people who are strongly opposed to the idea of same-sex marriage, so the legislature came up with the idea of civil unions as a compromise between groups seeking equal rights for homosexuals, and groups objecting to gay marriage.

A Vermont civil union is nearly identical to a legal marriage, as far as the rights and responsibilities for which state law, not federal law, is responsible are concerned. It grants partners next-of-kin rights and other protections that heterosexual married couples also receive. However, despite the "full faith and credit" clause of the United States Constitution, civil unions are generally not recognized outside of the state of Vermont in the absence of specific legislation. Opponents of the law have supported the Defense of Marriage Act and the proposed Federal Marriage Amendment in order to prevent obligatory recognition of same-sex couple in other jurisdictions. This means that many of the advantages of marriage, which fall in the federal jurisdiction (joint federal income tax returns, visas and work permits for the foreign partner of a U.S. citizen, etc), are not extended to the partners of a Vermont civil union. As far as voluntary recognition of the civil union in other jurisdictions is concerned, New York City's Domestic Partnership Law, passed in 2002, recognizes civil unions formalized in other jurisdictions. Germany's international civil law (EGBGB) also accords to Vermont civil unions the same benefits and responsibilities that apply in Vermont, as long as they do not exceed the standard accorded by German law to a German civil union.

See also

bg:Граждански съюз da:Registreret partnerskab de:Eingetragene_Partnerschaft es:Unión civil fr:Pacte civil de solidarité it:Unione civile nl:Geregistreerd partnerschap no:Registrert partnerskap pl:Rejestrowany związek partnerski pt:União de Facto sv:Registrerat partnerskap zh:民事結合