Natalie and Jessie will be obtaining a domestic partnership license from the City of New York, according to the laws of New York state. Unfortunately, this does not carry with it the same rights conferred upon married couples, but it is a significant and important step, not just in their relationship, but in terms of social, financial, and legal protections.
The couple has gotten a number of questions about this topic, ranging from, "CAN you get married in New York?" to "What rights DO you get as domestic partners?" Hopefully, the information on this page will help sort out some of those confusions.
While rights of same-sex partners vary throughout the country, it's important to note that due to the Defense of Marriage Act passed in 1996, none of the same-sex partnerships recognized at the state level (marriages, civil unions, or domestic partnerships) are recognized at the federal level. This has repercussions for any federal taxes or other legal issues, most significantly the 1138 federal rights granted by marriage as outlined by the United States General Accounting Office.
Currently, the only states that offer full marriage rights to same-sex couples are Massachusetts and Connecticut. The next most-inclusive standard would be states that, although they themselves do not offer marriage licenses to same-sex couples, do extend full state marriage rights if the couple was married in a location (international or domestic) that does offer licenses (New York, Rhode Island, and New Mexico). Beyond that, there are many states that offer civil unions and domestic partnerships with a variety of rights and benefits (California, Oregon, D.C., New Jersey, Vermont, New Hampshire).
Domestic partnerships in New York are explained on the website of the City Clerk. Their explanation of the rights of those domestically partnered are below.
These rights include, but are not limited to:
* Bereavement leave and child care leave for City employees;
* Visitation in a City correctional and juvenile detention facility;
* Visitation in facilities operated by the New York City Health and Hospitals Corporation;
* Eligibility to qualify as a family member to be added by the New York City Housing Authority to an existing tenancy as a permanent resident;
* Eligibility to qualify as a family member entitled to succeed to the tenancy or occupancy rights of a tenant or cooperator in buildings under the jurisdiction of the Department of Housing Preservation and Development;
* Health benefits provided by the City of New York and employees and retirees and eligible members of their family pursuant to stipulation or collective bargaining; and
* Such other rights as may be established pursuant to applicable law.
And here's where it gets painful--
Because they cannot be considered spouses, domestic partners do not benefit from state income tax advantages, the spousal privilege and confidential marital communications, the ability to take out insurance policies on the other spouse, and other benefits of marriage. A surviving domestic partner does not have any inheritance or life insurance rights absent an explicit bequest in a will.
The following benefits of marriage have been found NOT to extend to domestic partners:
* General workers' compensation death benefits (although the legislature passed Workers' Compensation Law § 4 allowing domestic partners of those killed in the September 11, 2001 attacks to receive death benefits, it has not extended the benefit to domestic partners in other cases.)
* Right to use equitable estoppel to enforce parental rights.
* Right to maintain an action based upon an implied contract for personal services.
* Right to maintain action in partition or division of property under legal framework of marriage.
* Right to bring a wrongful death claim.
* Rights inherent in marital residence.
* Right to maintain an action of loss of consortium.
If there are all these rights denied to same-sex couples in New York and the United States, why do Natalie and Jessie want to bother?
The answer to this question is three-fold, but can be summed up by one word: recognition.
1) It's important for this relationship and union to be recognized by our family and friends as a serious commitment as close to marriage as we can currently get.
Natalie and Jessie will be committing to each other in front of their closest family, and will then share the celebration of their union with their family, most cherished friends, and dear colleagues. They will make the same promises that heterosexual couples make in their wedding vows.
2) It's important for this relationship to be recognized by our local municipalities as more significant than a couple dating.
Though the rights conferred by a domestic partnership are seriously lacking when compared with those provided by a marriage, they are still more than Natalie and Jessie currently enjoy. With the aid of a good lawyer and some additional documentation, they can also guarantee that certain rights not offered by a domestic partnership are ensured.
3) It's important for this relationship and union to be recognized by the mass media, both the organization providing the ceremony and the outlets who will interview the couple and cover the story, as equal in importance and romanticism as the relationships of the other couples marrying as part of the Brides.com contest.
As this is the first year that Brides.com is including same-sex couples, it's exciting and important that Natalie and Jessie will be treated like any other couple by the organization, receiving the same swag, getting the same treatment from the organization, and being offered as interview subjects to the same media outlets.