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A domestic partnership is a legal or personal relationship between two individuals who live together and share a common domestic life but are neither joined by marriage nor a civil union. In some jurisdictions, such as Australia, New Zealand, the American states of Oregon, Washington, Nevada, and California, a domestic partnership is almost equivalent to marriage, or to other legally recognized same-sex or different-sex unions, while in other jurisdictions such as the American states of Wisconsin and Maine, domestic partnerships may confer lesser relationship rights than other jurisdictions' civil unions and more than de-facto cohabitation. The terminology for such unions is still evolving, and the exact level of rights and responsibilities conferred by a domestic partnership varies widely from place to place.
Some legislatures have voluntarily established domestic partnership relations by statute instead of being ordered to do so by a court. Although some jurisdictions have instituted domestic partnerships as a way to recognize same-sex unions, domestic partnerships may involve either different-sex or same-sex couples.
In some legal jurisdictions, domestic partners who live together for an extended period of time but are not legally entitled to common-law marriage may be entitled to legal protection in the form of a domestic partnership. Some domestic partners may enter into domestic partnership agreements in order to agree contractually to issues involving property ownership, support obligations, and similar issues common to marriage. (See effects of marriage and palimony.) Beyond agreements, registration of relationships in domestic partnership registries allow for the jurisdiction to formally acknowledge such agreements as valid relationships with limited rights, although agreements and registries have often been legalized in separate legislation.
One of the purposes of domestic partnership relation is to recognize the contribution of one partner to the property of the other. In the common law, devices such as the constructive trust are available to protect spouses in legal or common-law marriages. In civil law jurisdictions, such trusts are generally not available, prompting courts to find alternative ways to protect the partner who contributes to the other's property.
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In August 1979, gay rights activist Tom Brougham proposed a new category of relationship called "domestic partnership". Initially, the requirements were that only two people who resided together and were qualified to marry except that they were the same gender. Additional requirements were later added for the partners to maintain mutual financial responsibility and for both to be at least eighteen years old and able to enter into a legal contract.
In 1982, Brougham's definition was modified by Supervisor Harry Britt, a gay man appointed to replace Harvey Milk. Britt's version was adopted and passed by the San Francisco Board of Supervisors, but Dianne Feinstein, mayor of San Francisco at the time, came under intense pressure from the Catholic Church and vetoed the bill. In 1989, a domestic partnership law was adopted in San Francisco. However, voters repealed the domestic partnership law by initiative; a modified version was reinstated by another voter initiative, 1990's Proposition K, also written by Britt. Currently, the city still offers a domestic partnership status separate and differing in benefits from that offered by the state; city residents can apply for both.
In 1982, the term "domestic partner" was first used in a lawsuit filed by San Francisco Human Rights Commission employee Larry Brinkin. Brinkin, then an employee of Southern Pacific Railway, had recently suffered the loss of his partner of eleven years. When he was denied the three days of paid bereavement leave given to married employees, he filed suit with the assistance of the ACLU. Mr. Brinkin lost his case. Despite a great deal of evidence to the contrary, the judge agreed with his employer’s claim that there was no way to know if his relationship was legitimate.
In 1983, the City Council of Berkeley, California, under the leadership of Mayor Gus Newport, ordered their Human Relations and Welfare Commission to develop a domestic partnership proposal. The Commission appointed its Vice-Chair, Leland Traiman, a gay activist, to head the Domestic Partner Task Force and draft a policy. Working with Tom Brougham, members of the East Bay Lesbian/Gay Democratic Club, and attorney Matt Coles, the Domestic Partner Task Force drafted what has become the template for domestic partner/civil union policies around the world. The City of Berkeley's Human Relations and Welfare Commission held a public hearing early in 1984 on "Examining the Use of Marriage to Determine Benefits and Liabilities in Berkeley and the Alternatives." A policy was adopted by the Commission and presented to the City Council. A copy was sent to the Berkeley School Board. In July 1984 the City Council voted down the proposal citing financial concerns. On August 1, 1984, the Berkeley School Board enacted the policy by a 4 to 1 vote. The school board motion was made by Ethel Manheimer, a disabled lesbian.
In November 1984, all the city council members up for election who had voted against the policy lost reelection. Progressives from the Berkeley Citizens' Action (BCA) slate who replaced them had voiced strong support for a domestic partner policy. The East Bay Lesbian/Gay Democratic Club had worked hard to elect the BCA Slate. This was the first time domestic partners was a campaign issue. At the first meeting of the new City Council in December 1984, the Berkeley City Council enacted a policy extending employee benefits to unmarried couples of any gender. The first couple to file for benefits under Berkeley's sex-neutral policy were Brougham and his partner Barry Warren.
However, the City Council did not create a registry for domestic partners until 1991. On October 11 of that year, 28 lesbian and gay male couples and one heterosexual couple registered their partnerships. The registry and benefits were also extended to non-resident couples that same year.
In 1985, West Hollywood city council member John Heilman successfully introduced domestic partner legislation for city residents and employees that was passed by the city council and created the first domestic partnership registry.
In 1999 California Gov. Gray Davis, a Democrat, signed a domestic partner bill, making California the first state to legally recognize same-sex couples.
On September 4, 2003 the California legislature passed an expanded domestic partnership bill, extending nearly all the legal rights of married couples to people in same-sex partnerships. This erased all difference between California's domestic partnerships and civil unions passed in other states. California's comprehensive domestic partner policy was the first same-sex couples policy in the United States created by a legislature without court intervention. The policy became effective January 1, 2005.
Potentially serious legal issues arise from the conflict between state sponsored unions be they domestic partnership, civil unions, or same-sex-marriage and U.S. Federal law, which, under the Defense of Marriage Act, prohibits Federal recognition to those unions. This means that state sponsored domestic partners, civil unions and same-sex marriages are not entitled to any Federal spousal rights such as Social Security, Federal tax law or immigration rights for foreign same-sex spouses of American citizens.
The State of California has developed an Online Self-Help Center that provides resources and information to assist domestic partners in many areas, including filing domestic partnerships, dissolving domestic partnerships,parenting issues, tax issues, and more.
Since July 1, 2009 unmarried couples have been legally able to enter a designated beneficiary agreement which will grant them limited rights.
Washington, D.C., has recognized domestic partnerships since 1992. However, Congress prohibited the District from spending any local funds to implement the law. The prohibition was lifted in the federal appropriations act for the District for the 2002 fiscal year. Domestic partnership in the District is open to both same-sex and opposite-sex couples. All couples registered as domestic partners are entitled to the same rights as family members to visit their domestic partners in the hospital and to make decisions concerning the treatment of a domestic partner’s remains after the partner’s death. The measure also grants District of Columbia government employees rights to a number of benefits. Domestic partners are eligible for health care insurance coverage, can use annual leave or unpaid leave for the birth or adoption of a dependent child or to care for a domestic partner or a partner's dependents, and can make funeral arrangements for a deceased partner. The Domestic Partnership Equality Amendment Act of 2006, D.C. Law 16-79, came into effect on April 4, 2006. This act provides that in almost all cases a domestic partner will have the same rights as a spouse regarding inheritance, probate, guardianship, and other rights traditionally accorded to spouses. D.C. Council on May 6, 2008 approved the addition of 39 new provisions to the city’s domestic partners law, bringing the law to a point where same-sex couples who register as domestic partners will receive most, but not quite all, of the rights and benefits of marriage under District law.
In April, 2004 the legislature passed a domestic partnership bill. The law, which provides same-sex individuals with inheritance rights over their partners' property and guardianship over their deceased partner, went into effect on July 30, 2004. On May 6, 2009, Maine's legislature and governor enacted a law to legalize same-sex marriage, but on November 3, 2009, that law was repealed by voters.
Since July 1, 2008, unmarried couples have been able to enter a designated unregistered beneficiary agreement which will grant them limited rights such as the right to visit one another in the hospital, the right to share a room in a nursing home, and the right to make funeral decisions.
In Nevada domestic partnerships are granted all the benefits, rights, obligations and/or responsibilities of marriage (for both opposite-sex couples and same-sex couples over 18) and these have become legally available since 1 October 2009. The act specifically excludes requiring any entity to provide health benefits to domestic partners. In addition, due to vagueness in the verbiage of the act, most companies and entities within Nevada refuse to acknowledge or afford any major benefits or rights to registered domestic partners, leaving legal action as the only avenue to garner individual rights.
The governor of Oregon, Ted Kulongoski, signed a domestic partnership bill into law on May 9, 2007. Called the Oregon Family Fairness Act, the law would provide several major rights to same-sex couples that were previously only given to married couples, including the ability to file jointly on insurance forms, hospital visitation rights, and rights relating to the deceased partner. The law's initial implementation was delayed by a federal Court, but the injunction was lifted on February 1, 2008 and the law went into effect on February 4.
In the state of Washington, Governor Christine Gregoire signed into law legislation allowing limited domestic partnership on April 21, 2007. The law, which took effect July 22, 2007 and expanded to all areas except for marriage in 2008 and 2009, permits same-sex couples (as well as heterosexual couples when one individual is at least age 62) to register in a domestic partnership registry that allows couples hospital visitation rights, the ability to authorize autopsies and organ donations, and inheritance rights when there is no will. This follows the 1998 passage of a bill by the Washington State legislature that defined marriage as being between a man and a woman; this legislation was upheld by the Washington State Supreme Court in 2006. Washington State Senate Report
Wisconsin was the first state in the Midwest to legislatively enact same-sex unions. Out of about thirty states that have bans on same-sex marriage and civil unions, Wisconsin was the first (and only) to enact domestic partnerships. 
On March 5, 2009 Wisconsin Governor Jim Doyle proposed legislation for same-sex partnerships in Wisconsin.
On July 23, 2009, three members of Wisconsin Family Action filed a petition for an original action in the Wisconsin Supreme Court, seeking a declaration that the domestic partner registry is unconstitutional under the state's Marriage Protection Amendment.
Domestic Partnership law went into effect on August 3, 2009.
November 4, 2009: The Wisconsin Supreme Court rejected Appling v. Doyle, Wisconsin Family Action's legal challenge to domestic partnerships.
May 13, 2011: Governor Scott Walker asked to withdraw the state's defense of the domestic partnership registry.
June 20, 2011: Dane County Judge Dan Moeser ruled that the domestic partnership registry does not violate the state constitution, finding that the state "does not recognize domestic partnership in a way that even remotely resembles how the state recognizes marriage".
Only New Jersey offers civil unions which, like California's domestic partners, are equivalent to marriage in all but the title. In 1994, Vermont became the first state in the United States to extend health benefits to domestic partners.
In Ann Arbor, Michigan, the Ann Arbor City Council passed a domestic partner ordinance on November 4, 1991. This entitled Ann Arbor City employees to benefits for their partners, and enabled couples to register.
Portugal, Hungary and Croatia have domestic partnerships, whereas most other nations in Europe recognize some form of civil unions, also called a registered partnership, or civil partnership for same-sex partners, which afford rights similar to marriage to LGBT couples.
In Hungary, since 1996 domestic partnership in the form of unregistered cohabitation offers a limited set of rights compared to marriage in a Civil Code (more in the field of health and pension; but no inheritance), although a growing number of Hungarian couples, both opposite-sex couples and same-sex couples choose this kind of partnership instead of marriage. In April 2009, the Hungarian Parliament passed a Registration Partnership Act 2009 with a vote of 199–159, which provides a registered partnership for same-sex couples with all the benefits and entitlements of marriage (except for marriage itself, adoption, IVF access, taking a partner's surname, parentage and surrogacy). The law was passed in December 2007 by a vote of 110–78, but the Constitutional Court of Hungary was "deeply concerned" that the law was a duplication of opposite-sex marriage benefits and entitlements, so same-sex couples only registration was chosen. Some politicians of the Alliance of Free Democrats and Hungarian Socialist Party parties have argued for the introduction of marriage for same-sex couples. The Registration Partnership Act 2009 comes into effect from July 1, 2009.
In Australia, all levels of Governments, plus even some Councils, such as Yarra, Melbourne and Sydney, now offer "de facto/domestic status" or a "registered or civil partnership" to both same-sex couples and opposite-sex couples. Nevertheless, since 2009, the Australian Government amended 100 statutes to recognise both opposite and same gender couples, but still bans same-sex marriages under the Marriage Act 1961.
In 2001, the Property (Relationships) Act 1976 was extended to offer partners in unregistered "de facto" relationships similar rights to those of married couples. A de facto relationship is defined as a relationship between two persons living as a couple, who are not married or in a civil union. This applies to both heterosexual and same sex couples.
Civil unions are allowed in Autonomous City of Buenos Aires, Villa Carlos Paz (Córdoba), Río Cuarto (Córdoba) and Río Negro.
|Wikinews has related news: Interview with gay marriage movement founder Evan Wolfson|
|Wikiquote has a collection of quotations related to: Domestic partnership|
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