What are some of the differences between Civil Unions and Same-Sex Marriage?
Recognition in other states: Even though each state has its own laws around marriage, if someone is married in one state and moves to another, their marriage is legally recognized. For example, Oregon marriage law applies to people 17 and over. In Washington state, the couple must be 18 to wed. However, Washington will recognize the marriage of two 17 year olds from Oregon who move there. This is not the case with Civil Unions and Domestic Partnerships. If someone has a Domestic Partnership, that union is not recognized by some states and not others. Some states have even ruled that they do not have to recognize civil unions performed in other states, because their states have no such legal category. As gay marriages become legal in other states, this status may change.
A United States citizen who is married can sponsor his or her non-American spouse for immigration into this country. Those with Civil Unions have no such privilege.
Civil Unions are not recognized by the federal government, so couples would not be able to file joint-tax returns or be eligible for tax breaks or protections the government affords to married couples.
The General Accounting Office in 1997 released a list of 1,049 benefits and protections available to heterosexual married couples. These benefits range from federal benefits, such as survivor benefits through Social Security, sick leave to care for ailing partner, tax breaks, veterans benefits and insurance breaks. They also include things like family discounts, obtaining family insurance through your employer, visiting your spouse in the hospital and making medical decisions if your partner is unable to. Civil Unions protect some of these rights, but not all of them.
A lawyer can set up some things like durable power of attorney, wills and medical power of attorney.
There are several problems with this, however...
1. It costs thousands of dollars in legal fees. A simple marriage license, which usually costs under $100 would cover all the same rights and benefits.
2. Any of these can be challenged in court. As a matter of fact, more wills are challenged than not. In the case of wills, legal spouses always have more legal power than any other family member.
3. Marriage laws are universal. If someone’s husband or wife is injured in an accident, all you need to do is show up and say you’re his or her spouse. You will not be questioned. If you show up at the hospital with your legal paperwork, the employees may not know what to do with you. If you simply say, "He's my husband," you will immediately be taken to your spouse's side.
Even with lesbian and gay marriages being performed and recognized in some states, the Federal Defense of Marriage Law prohibits the federal government from recognizing gay and lesbian relationships. This puts gay and lesbian couples who are married in a legal limbo. How do they file their tax returns? Do they have to pay the tax on their partner’s health insurance? How do they fill out legal and other forms, single or married?
Creating Civil Unions creates a separate and unequal status for some of America’s citizens. The Massachusetts Supreme Judicial court ruled that creating a separate class for gay and lesbian citizens is not permissible and that is why they have voted that only marriage equals marriage. The precedent was set with Brown v. The Board of Education regarding segregation in public education. Ironically, Massachusetts marriage law went into effect on the 50th anniversary of Brown v. Board of Education.
The United States Constitution guarantees equality for all. As you can see, marriage and civil unions are not the same. Creating equal access to marriage is the only fair way to ensure equality for gay and straight couples alike.