Which License do you need: Marriage or Civil Union?

What's the Difference between a Marriage and a Civil Union?

Essentially, the Civil Union law was created to allow same sex couples in Hawaii and in the other states that recognize same sex ceremonies to enter into a similar bond as marriage but with some differences. The Government Accountability Office lists 1,138 federal laws that pertain to married couples. Many in that long list may be minor or only relevant to small groups of citizens.

However, a number of provisions are key to what constitutes a marriage legally in the United States:

Taxes. Couples in a civil union may file a joint state tax return, but they must file federal tax returns as single persons. This may be advantageous to some couples, not so for others. One advantage for married couples is the ability to transfer assets and wealth without incurring tax penalties. Partners in a civil union aren't permitted to do that, and thus may be liable for estate and gift taxes on such transfers.

Health insurance. The state-federal divide is even more complicated in this arena. In the wake of the Massachusetts high court ruling, the group Gay & Lesbian Advocates & Defenders put together a guide to spousal health care benefits. GLAD’s document is Massachusetts-specific but provides insight into how health insurance laws would apply to those in a civil union in other states. In general, GLAD says, it comes down to what’s governed by state law and what’s subject to federal oversight. If a private employer’s health plans are subject to Massachusetts state insurance laws, benefits must be extended to a same-sex spouse. If the health plan is governed by federal law, the employer can choose whether or not to extend such benefits.

Social Security survivor benefits. If a spouse or divorced spouse dies, the survivor may have a right to Social Security payments based on the earnings of the married couple, rather than only the survivor’s earnings. Same-sex couples are not eligible for such benefits.

Other federal areas in which couples in civil unions don't have the same rights as married couples include immigration (a partner who's a foreign national can't become an American by entering into a civil union with someone) and veterans'  and military benefits (only opposite-sex spouses have a right to pensions, compensation for service-related deaths, medical care, housing and the right to burial in veterans’ cemeteries). Same-sex couples, however, may actually benefit when applying for programs such as Medicaid or government housing that require low-income eligibility. A spouse’s income is included in such applications, but a same-sex partner’s income is not. One change has been made in federal law: A provision in the Pension Protection Act of 2006 allows same-sex couples to transfer 401(k) and IRA earnings to partners without penalty. Information quoted from FactCheck.org.

Information below, quoted from other websites.
The Hawaii Civil Union law does similar things, stating that "a party to a civil union shall be included in any definition or use of the terms 'spouse,' 'family,' 'immediate family,' 'dependent,' 'next of kin,' and other terms that denote the spousal relationship, as those terms are used throughout the law."
But, of course, entering into a Civil Union in Hawaii or Illinois will not afford couples any of the federal protections or responsibilities federal law provides to married couples (such as social security, immigration, tax and other benefits that different-sex couples gain when they marry). But then, if these two states had amended their law to allow same-sex couples to marry, the federal government would not have recognized those marriages either under the Defense of Marriage Act.

  • The ability to own property jointly, including the presumption that the property obtained by either partner after joining in a civil union is owned jointly.
  • Certain protections against losing your joint property to creditors.
  • The right to make decisions about one another's medical care if either of you is unconscious or otherwise unable to make those decisions.
  • Rights to keep private your conversations and to avoid testifying against one another.
  • The right to court-supervised distribution of property if you and your partner break up.
  • The right to share the same nursing home room.
  • Pension protections for surviving partners of teachers, police officers, and firefighters, and those other state, county, and municipal employees whose pension benefits pass to their spouses at death.
  • Workers' compensation benefits for partners of employees who are accidentally injured or killed at work.
  • The ability to recover for your partner's wrongful death.
  • Intestacy rights to ensure that your surviving partner will receive some or all of your property if you die without a will.

However, please remember this information is given as a guide and does not constitute legal guidance. If in doubt check with a lawyer.

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