Same-Sex Unions Around the World: Marriage, Civil Unions, Registered Partnerships—What Are the Differences and Why Do They Matter?
Probate and Property, September/October 2005, Volume 19, Number 5
By Leslie J. Harris
Leslie J. Harris is the Dorothy Kliks Fones Professor of Law at the University of Oregon School of Law in Eugene, Oregon.
In most states, a survivor has statutory rights in the estate of his or her deceased mate only if the two were married; similarly, only a surviving spouse, not other committed partners, can claim preferential estate and inheritance tax treatment. Because same-sex couples cannot marry in any state except Massachusetts, it seems that these benefits are not available to same-sex partners. But in five states in addition to Massachusetts and in more than a dozen countries, recent legislation extends estate rights to committed same-sex partners. This legislation is part of a worldwide trend toward giving legal recognition and protection to same-sex familial relationships. The legislation varies in three important respects: the extent to which it gives the partners familial rights in their dealings with third parties, the extent to which it gives the partners rights and duties between each other, and the extent to which the legislative scheme is available to opposite-sex as well as same-sex couples. A fourth important variation among jurisdictions is whether adult partners who can legalize their relationships have only one option (marriage or a civil union, for example), or whether they have a choice, such as between marriage and and as a civil union.