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GLAAD Media Reference Guide - In Focus: Civil Unions & Domestic Partnerships


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For a list of U.S. states that extend civil unions or some form of domestic partnership protections to same-sex couples, please see Appendix A: Federal & State Laws & Protections. Updates to this list can be accessed at

A handful of U.S. states, while they do not allow committed lesbian and gay couples to marry, do provide varying degrees of legal protections via civil unions or domestic partnership laws.

It is important to note that these laws offer only limited protections to same-sex couples and families. The federal Defense of Marriage Act's (DOMA) definitions of "marriage" and "spouse" deny same-sex couples (including those in states where gay couples are able to marry) any of the federal rights, protections and responsibilities of marriage, and can raise serious legal issues for gay or lesbian couples and families who travel or move within the United States.


Civil unions confer upon same-sex couples some or all of the state (though none of the federal) rights, protections and obligations afforded married spouses. Non-residents may be able to obtain a civil union, although civil unions may not be recognized in or by other states.

Some political figures say that while they do not support marriage for gay couples, they do favor civil unions as a way to offer equal legal safeguards to those couples. However, such proposals appear to be prohibited by the federal Defense of Marriage Act, which explicitly denies same- sex couples any of the federal rights, protections and responsibilities of marriage. Please ask those who say they support civil unions but not marriage for gay couples to clarify how their proposal would provide same-sex couples the same federal protections offered to straight married couples.


Like civil unions, domestic partnership laws grant same-sex couples some or all of the state (though none of the federal) protections afforded straight married couples. The scope of domestic partnership laws can vary significantly by state, from offering most of the protections of marriage under state law to offering only a handful of important legal protections. More than 60 municipalities also have domestic partner registries that permit same-sex couples (and in some cases opposite-sex couples as well) to register with the city or county. In some cases, these regisĀ­tries extend limited protections to registered couples.

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