Comparison of Civil Marriage, Civil Union, and Domestic Partnership Laws

Type of Legally Binding RelationshipPortabilityFederal ApplicabilityAvailabilityBenefits Provided
Civil marriagePersons married in 1 state are considered married in all other statesRights, benefits, and protections conferred to married couplesAvailable in all states to heterosexual couples1138 federal benefits in the areas of Social Security, employment, health care, taxation, family leave, immigration and naturalization, trade, commerce and intellectual property, and the judicial system
Available to same-gender couples only in MassachusettsFederal benefits are not granted to same-gender couples married in Massachusetts because the federal government does not recognize this state law
Numerous state-based benefits that vary by location
Civil unionCurrently, Connecticut and Vermont are the only states with civil union laws; because of state DOMAs and other related laws, Connecticut's and Vermont's civil unions have not been recognized by other statesNo federal rights, benefits, or protectionsAvailable in Connecticut and Vermont to same-gender couples onlyBoth the Connecticut and Vermont civil union laws grant same-gender partners the same benefits, protections, and responsibilities under respective state law as are granted to spouses in a marriage
Domestic partnershipBecause domestic partnership laws are generally state-, community-, or employer-specific, they are not thought to have portability beyond the partners' state, community, or place of employmentNo federal rights, benefits, or protectionsCalifornia, the District of Columbia, Hawaii, Maine, and New Jersey currently have domestic partnership laws that confer limited protections, such as hospital visitation and inheritance rights, to same-gender couples who register with the stateThe California domestic partnership law grants to unmarried couples most of the state spousal rights afforded to married couples
Some states have recognized domestic partners of state employees, but a number of these have ended this recognition after passage of state DOMA laws and/or constitutional marriage amendmentsThe District of Columbia allows domestic partner registration, allowing partners to be legally recognized as family for the purposes of visitation in health care facilities; the law also grants a number of benefits to DC government employees and their domestic partners, including family/medical leave and health insurance coverage
A number of other cities and counties as well as employers also recognize domestic partner relationshipsHawaii, Maine, and New Jersey laws grant some state spousal rights to unmarried couples