About the Author
Nancy Levenson is a freelance writer based in Portland, Ore. Her work has been published online at and and in magazines such as Cottage Living and Northwest Homes and Gardens. She is also a contributor to the Best Places guidebooks.
First comes love, then comes ... the legal right to visit your partner if he falls off a ladder and ends up in the hospital. OK, so it might not sound as romantic as marching down a rose-petal strewn aisle and hosting a grand reception overlooking the ocean, but there is something to be said for domestic partnerships. And this institution of not-marriage isn't just for same-sex couples. Members of the hetero set see the same perks.
The topic of domestic partnerships can be befuddling, so let's get the facts straight with this domestic partnership FAQ:
Q: What are domestic partners? A: Domestic partners are unmarried couples of any gender who are over the age of 18 (or age of consent), are living together and seek similar benefits (economic and otherwise) granted to their married counterparts.
Q: What benefits do domestic partners have? A: Thousands of different organizations grant domestic partner benefits. Private companies and colleges and universities offer them to employees and students. Some states and municipalities also offer DP benefits, but their offerings vary greatly. Some examples of domestic-partner benefits include:
- Hospital visitation rights
- The right to refuse to testify against each other in court
- The ability to authorize autopsies and organ donations
- Inheritance rights when there is no will
- Medical and dental coverage for partners of employees
- Bereavement and sick leave
- Right to make funeral arrangements for a partner
- Retirement benefits
- Relocation benefits
- Employee discounts
- Automatic "authorized driver" on a partner's rental car
Q: I understand why homosexual couples would want domestic partnerships, but why don't straight people just get married if they want the same rights as married people? A: There are a variety of reasons why two people, straight or otherwise, might choose a domestic partnership over a marriage.
Our culture is changing, and for some, marriage doesn't hold the same meaning as it once did. Not everyone dreams of their wedding day, and many people simply don't feel the need to be legally married in order to be in a committed relationship.
Lucy, a 31-year-old sales associate who lives near Bend, Ore., has her own reasons for choosing domestic partnership. "My parents were always fighting. They never seemed blissfully in love and it really affected my idea of what marriage is like. I lost interest in tying the knot a long time ago, but I love my partner deeply and we've been together for more than five years."
Q: Where did this all start? A: Domestic partnership is still fairly new. In 1982, the Village Voice newspaper became the first private company to offer its employees domestic partnership benefits. In 1984, the City of Berkeley, Calif., became the first municipality to do so. In 1995, Vermont became the first state to extend domestic partnership benefits to its public employees. Hawaii became the first state to extend domestic partnership benefits to all same-sex couples in 1997.
Q: What do I do if I want to form a domestic partnership? A: It varies by organization, but it generally involves a simple registration process. In Oregon, for example, same-sex domestic partners need a driver's license, passport, or other state-issued ID (plus cash for the small fee, which generally ranges from $10 to $20). Forms can be obtained at the County Clerk's office, and need to be filled out and notarized before they're filed. The Clerk will then sign the paper, making your domestic partnership legally valid.
Q: I want domestic partner benefits through my employer. What should I do? A: First, ask your company's administrator if the rights exist already. If they don't, let them know that you think you and your partner should have the same benefits as married people, and request that they consider changing their policy.
To learn more about domestic partnership, visit the Human Rights Campaign website at .&nbsp;And visit the&nbsp;website of your state or local government to find out if they support domestic partnerships.