The US Supreme Court’s decision striking down a key part of the Defense of Marriage Act late last month was great news for married same-sex couples, and only for married same-sex couples. The Office of Personnel Management has underlined the argument made against civil unions by denying most marriage rights obtained through marriage to those in civil unions.
The OPM has, basically, said that civil unions are not marriages for the purpose of government recognition. Still, some benefits for those in domestic partners or civil unions will remain intact after the ruling, but for the most part, those couples “will remain ineligible for most Federal benefits programs.”
Civil Unions came into being as a compromise following the Vermont Supreme Court’s ruling that the state had to have marriage equality for same-sex couples. This happened after the federal Defense of Marriage Act went into effect in 1996. In 2004, Massachusetts became the first state to legalize same-sex marriage.
Civil unions were often used as a means to avoid having same-sex marriage. Currently, there are four states that have civil unions that will not be changing over to same-sex marriages later in the year. Hawaii, Colorado, Illinois and New Jersey all have civil unions. Nevada, Oregon and Wisconsin have domestic partnerships.
Politicians have often argued that civil unions were enough given that they offered all the same legal benefits as marriage does without using the term ‘marriage’. This is no longer true since the federal government now recognizes same-sex marriages, but not civil unions. In New Jersey, this could mean that the law creating civil unions is in violation of the state Supreme Court ruling that same-sex couples deserve to have complete equality. This could mean that another challenge to the law could force New Jersey’s legislature to pass same-sex marriage rights in the near future.