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Domestic Partnership

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Domestic Partnership
chapter 1  | Defining Family |  15
upheld the pension board’s decision, and the case is now pending in
the state Court of Appeals.
• An appeals court in Michigan ruled that because the state constitu­
tion was amended to refuse to recognize nonmarital unions, public
employers may not offer domestic partner benefits to same-sex
partners of employees.
• A Florida appeals court ruled that a Tampa hospital did not dis­
criminate when it refused a lesbian access to her dying partner in
the hospital’s emergency room and intensive care unit and wouldn’t
update her on her partner’s condition, even after the woman
presented the hospital with a power of attorney granting her access
to medical information and the right to make medical decisions for
her partner.
Domestic Partnership
Because lesbian and gay couples historically have not been allowed to
marry, the idea of domestic partnership developed as an alternative that
would be less threatening to the established social system while still
providing same-sex couples some societal—and later, legal—recognition.
But the term “domestic partnership” doesn’t always mean the same
thing. This section discusses the varying meanings of domestic partner­
ship and explains some of the benefits and consequences of domestic
partnership relationships.
Who Are Domestic Partners?
The concept of domestic partnership has undergone an evolution, and the
term now can have various levels of legal significance depending on its
context.
Informal arrangements. Many couples call themselves “domestic
partners” because they live together in a committed relationship. There
are no legal consequences to simply referring to yourselves this way, but
if you live in a state where legal domestic partnership is available, just
considering yourself domestic partners and referring to yourselves that
16  |  A Legal guide for Lesbian and Gay Couples
way isn’t enough—you must register formally with the state in order to be
eligible for any benefits your state offers. If you don’t, you’re technically
not domestic partners—“cohabitants” would be a more accurate term.
Domestic Partnership Milestones
1982: The Village Voice newspaper in New York is the first private company
to offer its employees domestic partnership benefits.
1984: Berkeley, California, is the first city to do so.
1995: Vermont becomes the first state to extend domestic partnership
benefits to its public employees.
1997: Hawaii is the first state to extend domestic partnership benefits to all
registered same-sex couples throughout the state.
2003: New Jersey enacts domestic partner legislation.
2004: Maine enacts domestic partner legislation.
2005: California registered domestic partners become subject to almost all
state marital laws.
2006: The District of Columbia enacts domestic partner legislation.
2008: Maine and Oregon enact domestic partnership legislation.
2009: Washington State enacts domestic partnership legislation.
2011: Delaware, Hawaii, Illinois, and Rhode Island all enact civil union
registration.
Partnerships recognized by employers. Many employers—government
and private—now treat cohabitating partners of employees the same way
they treat employees’ spouses. For example, domestic partners may be
eligible for coverage on the employee’s health insurance policy. It’s up to
the employer to determine who qualifies as a domestic partner and what
proof it requires. Not all employers require formal registration documents
to confer benefits, but in states where marriage or official registration is
available, employers are more likely to require partners to take that step in
order to receive employer-provided benefits.
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