A civil union is one term used to describe a legally sanctioned partnership between two people, which may be roughly equivalent to marriage. In most cases, people seeking a civil union are members of homosexual couples, though under some circumstances, people who are in hetero relationships also request a civil union as opposed to marriage. When this form of partnership is established, it usually entitles both members of the couple to the rights and privileges couple share in marriages. These include things like being able to cover partners on health insurance, and make medical decisions for ailing partners.
In 1989, Denmark was the first country to establish civil union laws that would allow gay and lesbian couples to form legal and lasting partnerships. Since then, numerous other countries and some states in the US have recognized the right of homosexual couples to “marry” or to create legal partnership agreements that are treated like marriage within the state or country where they are authorized.
Some countries that have civil union laws include Norway, Sweden, Finland, France, Iceland, the United Kingdom, Israel and Mexico, and some states within the US. Vermont was the first US state to create civil unions, and some other states have followed. These include domestic partnership laws in Oregon and California.
Not all civil union laws are created equal. For instance, in Denmark, same sex couples may not adopt a child, though one partner can adopt the child of his/her spouse. Another huge difference in most civil unions is that partnerships may not be recognized outside of the state or country in which they originate. If you’re a married couple from New Jersey, your marriage and the legal rights you’re entitled to will be approximately the same whether you remain in New Jersey or travel to Texas.
People who are in civil unions or domestic partnerships don’t have this privilege. A couple that travels to a state in the US that doesn’t recognize civil unions won’t retain their status. In fact, from a federal perspective, the US federal government doesn’t treat these unions as legal or portable. This is one argument against civil unions by people who seek the ability for homosexual couples to marry instead of forming domestic partnerships. The unions are not equal to marriage because they will not always engender the same rights. In fact some people refer to these laws as apartheid of sorts, which purport to provide separate but equal privileges that truly aren’t equal.
To create greater equality, some states or countries may simply offer same sex marriages. In places like the US, many people do treat same sex marriages as an offensive thing, and work very hard to campaign against them. Proposed solutions to ban same sex marriage include things like adding a constitutional amendment to define marriage as between a man and woman only. Needless to say, there are many who greatly support same sex marriage. They would prefer to see homosexual couples have the exact same rights and recognition as heterosexual couples.
Many gay and lesbian couples see civil union laws as a good first step. In the estimation of some people though, they do not go far enough. One reason these laws remain problematic is because in numerous countries, religious feelings may directly oppose homosexuality. However, this should not influence countries that purport to have total separation of church and state. Evidence does suggest that even in countries where church and state are defined as separate entities, religious feelings may still hold sway over decisions regarding civil unions or gay marriage.