Same-Sex Marriage and Same-Sex Unions
|Written by Steven Daily|
|Last Updated October 13, 2008|
Various types of formal same-sex unions have long been customary in certain cultures. Whether governments should provide legal recognition to such relationships has become a contentious issue in some countries, mostly in the West, since the 1990s. The points of contention are mainly:
The Netherlands was the first country to allow same-sex marriages, in 2001. Four other countries have since followed suit: Belgium, Canada, South Africa and Spain. Australia and the United States have reacted against this trend by enacting national laws expressly defining marriage as between a man and a woman.
Other Same-Sex Unions
Many countries give some form of legal recognition to same-sex unions. They either permit some form of registration which grants the partners legal rights, or automatically grant rights to same-sex partners who have cohabited for a certain period of time. Same-sex unions are also allowed in certain jurisdictions within Argentina, Brazil, Italy, Mexico, and the United States (see U.S. State Laws).
U.S. Federal law
U.S. federal law gives married couples numerous special rights and obligations. A 2004 study found 1,138 federal laws using marital status to determine benefits, rights, and privileges. The federal Defense of Marriage Act of 1996 permits states to disregard out-of-state same-sex marriages and denies same-sex couples benefits reserved under federal law for married persons. It states in part, "In determining the meaning of an Act of Congress, or of any ruling...the word 'marriage' means only a legal union between one man and one woman as husband and wife." There have been legislative efforts to amend the U.S. Constitution to ban same-sex marriage, but none have made significant progress.
U.S. State Laws
In 1995, Utah enacted the first state law specifically prohibiting same-sex marriage. Since then 19 states have enacted similar laws and 26 have amended their constitution to do so. In Massachusetts, the state's Supreme Judicial Court's ruled in 2003 that the state may not deny same-sex couples the right to marry. The highest courts of California and Connecticut have followed suit.
Other Same-Sex Unions
Same-sex civil unions have made significant progress in U.S. Vermont enacted the first U.S. law to sanction these civil unions in 2000. Partners in such a union have the same rights and obligations as married couples under state law, including rights of inheritance, and the filing of joint income tax returns. Some form of same-sex unions or partnerships are now also permitted in California, Connecticut, Hawaii, Maine, New Hampshire, New Jersey, Washington and Washington, D.C.
Recognition of Out-of-State Marriages
Rhode Island, by virtue of an opinion issued by its Attorney General, recognizes the validity of same-sex marriages which were lawfully entered into in another jurisdiction. It does not permit same-sex marriage within the state, therefore couples currently must travel to Massachusetts for that purpose.
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