Picking the Wedding Locale
Know your rights in your state before you say “I do.”
Passed in 1996, the federal Defense of Marriage Act defined marriage as a legal union between one man and one woman for purposes of all federal laws, and says that states need not recognize a marriage from another state if it is between persons of the same sex. Over 10 years later, 40 states have passed their own DOMA laws, but in the remaining states some rights have been granted to same-sex couples.
Maine, California, Oregon and Washington offer domestic partnerships that give many or all of the same rights to same-sex couples that married heterosexuals enjoy. Similarly, Hawaii has a reciprocal beneficiary relationship for which any two people can register. A civil union is a legal union of a same-sex couple, sanctioned by a civil authority. A civil union is different from a domestic partnership because it requires a ceremony to be considered valid. New Jersey, Vermont, Connecticut and New Hampshire grant civil unions to same-sex couples that extend the same benefits and protections granted to spouses in a marriage. But by calling it a civil union, they remind gays and lesbians they are not married like straight couples. Massachusetts and California alone give marriage licenses to all couples.
Even when these states grant same-sex couples full state rights—including rights to inheritance and adoption—they remain excluded from federal protections like collecting on a deceased partner’s Social Security and federal tax benefits.
Don’t let all those same-sex marriage bans discourage you. Progressive states continue to push for positive changes. Rhode Island honors marriages performed in Massachusetts while New Jersey recognizes civil unions from Vermont and Connecticut and grants civil union status to domestic partners from California. Meanwhile, New Hampshire law includes provisions for recognizing civil unions performed in other states. We’ve highlighted some of the pending cases around the country where the fight for full marriage equality continues.