Marriage vs Domestic Partnerships
Separate and not equal

Marriage vs. Domestic Partnership in California Domestic partnerships offer many protections for couples and families, and while they are a big step forward, they don't provide the same security as marriage. California still shuts out some people from marriage, creating a two-tiered system at odds with the principle that separate is not equal. Two people doing the work of marriage deserve the respect and support that only come with marriage.

MarriageDomestic Partnership
Legal Status, Recognition, Portability
of Rights
Universally recognized in all 50 states. Includes more than 1000 federal rights and benefits. Legal structure in place to dissolve marriages and divide property equitably.
Not valid outside of the state that grants it. No federal protections. Legal structure to dissolve partnership not guaranteed outside of state. May be dissolved without court ruling under some circumstances.
Universal societal understanding, honor and respect for the nature of a couple's relationship and commitment.
Not universally understood because benefits vary widely by jurisdiction. Without common understanding of their meaning, domestic partnerships don't provide the same kind of honor and respect that marriages do.
Decisions, Emergencies
Spouses and family members allowed to make decisions for incompetent or disabled person absent written instructions.
Partner's right to visitation and medical decision making may not be recognized out of state.
right to visitation and medical decision making may not be recognized
out of state.
The myriad of laws in place provide security about basic family protections that are socially recognized and won't disappear.
Partners may feel unsure of legal protection, and at the mercy of political whims of elected officials.
Tax BenefitsGuaranteed unlimited transfers and gifts and automatic right to inherit without tax penalties. Able to file federal income taxes jointly.
Large gift transfers and inheritance transactions subject to federal taxes. Federal tax returns filed separately.
Retirement, Leave,
and other Family Benefits
Eligible for Social Security, veteran's benefits and pension plan survivor benefits upon death of spouse. Entitled family leave to care for ill spouse.
Do not receive Social Security, veteran's benefits and pension plan survivor benefits upon death of partner. Not guaranteed equal benefits from employers. Excluded from long-term care benefits. Not guaranteed family leave to care for ill partner.
and Child Support
Criminal penalties imposed if a spouse abandons a child or spouse.
Outside of state, partners have no legal obligation to support their partner.
ImmigrationU.S. citizens can sponsor spouse, family members for immigration.
No benefits for couples in bi-national relationships.
Common ResidenceNot required.
Must share common residence.
Name ChangesAllowed upon marriage.
Not allowed without court order.
PrivacyRecorded only at county level with no address on the form.
Maintained by the state with a central, public and easily-searchable database.

By the Numbers Key Facts about Gay and Lesbian Couples in the U.S.
  • Gay and lesbian couples live in 99.3 percent of all counties nationwide.
  • There are an estimated 3.1 million people living together in gay or lesbian relationships in the United States.
  • Fifteen percent of these couples live in rural settings.
  • Between 1 million and 9 million children are being raised by gay, lesbian and bisexual parents in the United States today.
  • The highest percentages of these couples raising children live in the South.
  • Nearly one in four gay and lesbian couples includes a partner 55 years old or older, and nearly one in five is composed of two people 55 or older.
  • More than one in 10 gay and lesbian couples include a partner 65 years old or older, and nearly one in 10 of these couples is composed of two people 65 or older. The states with the highest numbers of senior gay or lesbian couples are also the most popular for straight senior couples: California, New York and Florida.
These facts are based on analyses of the 2000 Census conducted by the Urban Institute and the Human Rights Campaign. (See GAY AND LESBIAN FAMILIES IN THE UNITED STATES: SAME-SEX UNMARRIED PARTNER HOUSEHOLDS: A Preliminary Analysis of 2000 United States Census Data. August 22, 2001 by David M. Smith, Communications Director & Senior Strategist, Human Rights Campaign and Gary J. Gates, Ph.D., Population Studies Center, The Urban Institute; Report at
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