The term "domestic partners" is a new name for a
living arrangement which has been around for a long time, namely, two unmarried adults who
are living together as a family unit.
"domestic partners" was first used in Northern California when the City of San
Francisco was considering legislation to give benefits and protections to such couples in
1981. The phrase caught on and today it is a legal term of art which is used by some state
governments, many local governments, and hundreds of private employers. Many courts are
now referring to unmarried couples as "domestic partners" as well.
The Census Bureau reported in 1998 that 5.1 million of the
nation's households were occupied by unmarried partners. About 70% of these relationships
involved heterosexual couples, with the rest comprised of same-sex partners. Nearly 38% of
the unmarried heterosexual couples were raising children.
Berkeley was the first government employer to provide
benefits to city employees with domestic partners. The Village Voice in New York City was
the first private employer. Since 1984 when these programs were initiated, more and more
employers have decided to initiate domestic partner benefits plans. Today, more than
employers give benefits to domestic partners of their employees.
Effective January 1, 2000, California became the first state
in the nation to begin operating a statewide registry for domestic partners. Those who
registered became entitled to a few basic humanitarian protections, such as hospital visitation
rights in times of medical emergency. In 2005, a comprehensive domestic
partnership law took effect, giving registered partners most of the
rights and obligations of married couples under California law.
Vermont become the first state in the nation to enact a
"civil union" law, effective July 1, 2000. Unfortunately, the law excludes
the majority of cohabiting couples from eligibility. See: "'Civil Union' Bill Unfairly Excludes Heterosexual
Seniors and Others."
The trend for domestic partnership law and benefits programs,
both in the United States and internationally is to allow both same-sex couples and
unmarried heterosexual couples to participate. See: "Who's In and Who's Not: Some Questions to Consider as Vermont
Ponders Whether to Pass an Inclusive or Restrictive Domestic Partnership Law."
This section of our website it specifically devoted to
domestic partnership issues. We hope the information is helpful to you.