Registered domestic partnerships were created to address parties that were living together in a committed relationship but were not legally married. Depending upon the laws governing the partnership, parties could acquire certain rights and benefits by entering into such a partnership agreement.
These partnerships are used mostly by municipalities although a few states do have statewide registries. Most commonly used by same-sex couples, a registered partnership is basically a public declaration of the union between the two parties. Some partnerships contain extremely broad language, providing for adoption rights, health benefits and other legal rights normally granted to married couples. Still others however are considerably narrow, acting as nothing more than an acknowledgement of the union with little to no legal rights.
Each state differs in its rules and regulations so know the laws before proceeding with a domestic partnership. California and Vermont for example, have provisions that allow registered domestic partners to receive almost all the rights of a traditional married couple. Other states such as Hawaii and Maine, allow for some rights but are restrictive on others. New Jersey only offers domestic partnerships to couples that are age 62 and older.
In spite of these state enacted laws, the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA – 1996), allows the federal government to withhold the 1000+ legal rights extended to heterosexual married couples and grants the states the right to refuse to acknowledge such a union that is recognized in a neighboring state. This means that a domestic partnership that is recognized in one city or state is not guaranteed the same benefits anywhere else.
Unlike the United States however, other countries show considerable support for domestic partnership registries. Denmark, Norway, Sweden, Iceland and Germany are just a few of the countries that have enacted Partnership Acts to provide legal and social rights to unmarried couples, regardless of the sex of the parties involved.