Types of Partnerships for Same-Sex Couples in the U.S.
In the U.S., family law is governed almost exclusively by individual states. This includes the decision to recognize same-sex marriage, to provide some alternative legal union for same-sex couples, or to provide no recognition at all.
A small number of states currently recognize and perform marriages between partners of the same sex. A larger number, but still a minority, recognize alternative legal unions for same-sex couples, which tend to offer most (or in some cases, all) of the rights and responsibilities associated with marriage, but they simply go by a different name, such as “domestic partnership” or “civil union”.
Domestic Partnerships in Oregon
Since 2008, Oregon has offered domestic partnerships, which provide the same legal rights and responsibilities associated with marriage.
These rights include the right to automatically inherit property from a partner if he or she dies without a will, in the same manner as a spouse, the right to visit a partner in the hospital, the right to sue for the wrongful death of a partner, the right to file joint state (but not federal) tax returns, and the same testimonial privileges that married couples enjoy (essentially, one domestic partner cannot be compelled to testify against the other in court), among many others.
To enter a domestic partnership in Oregon, the partners must be of the same sex, both must be at least 18 years old and of sound mind, neither partner can be married or in a domestic partnership with another living person, and the partners may not be first cousins (or any closer blood relationship).
The Defense of Marriage Act, a federal law passed by Congress in 1996, prohibits the federal government from recognizing any legal union for same-sex couples, even if they are valid in an individual state.
This affects federal benefits like social security, veteran’s benefits, and spousal benefits for federal employees. Under federal law, same-sex couples in any type of state-sanctioned legal union are treated as if they’re single. President Obama is on the record as being against this law, and seeing it repealed. However, Congress has not taken any action on the matter. If the law is repealed sometime in the future, the federal government would presumably be able to treat same-sex couples who are married or in domestic partnerships under the laws of a particular state as married for federal purposes. The repeal of this law, by itself, would not force any state to recognize same-sex marriage.
Furthermore, entering any official same-sex union can trigger the U.S. military’s “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy, and could result in a less-than-honorable discharge. If you or your partner serve in the armed forces, this is something that should definitely be considered before entering a domestic partnership.
Do I Need A Lawyer?
Because the legal situation involving same-sex marriage and domestic partnerships is extremely complex, you might want to contact an experienced family law attorney in Oregon if you have any questions on how an Oregon domestic partnership would affect the legal rights of you or your partner.