Two adults of the same gender who want legal recognition of their committed, long-term relationship can register for a domestic partnership as high as the state level. By filling out a form and submitting an application fee, they receive a certificate that opens doors to many benefits. While some states offer this recognition, most don't, nor does the federal government
Domestic partners receive validation for their relationship from family, friends and society. As with married couples, they are often seen as more stable and financially responsible, which can grant them lower insurance rates, loan discounts and joint invitations to parties.
States that recognize domestic partnerships offer the same legal benefits afforded to married couples. Partners can share the same surname, make health care decisions for each other, file taxes jointly, adopt children together, and jointly own community property without complicated and expensive legal contracts.
Many companies, such as Kodak and Prudential, offer domestic partner benefits to their employees. These include relocation assistance, health and life insurance, family leave, retirement and employee discounts. These benefits apply whether or not the workplace is located in a state that recognizes such partnerships, and the benefits are often available to unmarried opposite-sex couples, as well as same-sex couples.
Dissolving a domestic partnership involves all the trauma, legal problems and financial hassles of a divorce. For example, one partner has the right to sue for financial support from the other. Division of property, custody and visitation of children, and financial debt may need to be settled through expensive and time-consuming court battles.
Some states do not recognize domestic partner benefits, while others, like Virginia, actually prohibit them. Thus, domestic partners may lose their legal standing simply by moving. For example, a gay couple that adopts a child in California may lose custody of that child in Florida, simply because that state bans gay adoptions.
The largest government body that does not recognize domestic partnerships is the federal government. Thus, federal benefits involving taxes, Social Security and immigration do not apply. Though legal cases have yet to test its validity, the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) may actually prohibit these unions.