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This page explains what rights LGBT people enjoy. If anything is missing or factually wrong, please let us know by emailing us at mail [à] klambda [ · ] org.
This page is for informational purposes only. We can only tell you general facts. We can’t help you with legal or tax matters. That’s what lawyers and tax consultants are for.
In the United States, same-sex couples can marry in Connecticut, Iowa, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, New York, Vermont, and Washington, DC. Additionally, the Coquille Indian Tribe, based in North Bend, Oregon, has allowed same-sex couples to marry under Coquille law since 2009 (news), and the Suquamish Tribe, on the western shore of Puget Sound in Washington, enacted marriage equality in August 2011 (news). In Washington and Maryland, bills enacting marriage equality have been signed into law, but both laws are on hold pending referendums in November 2012. Marriage equality was in effect in California for six months in 2008, until Proposition 8 eliminated the right of same-sex couples to marry. The constitutionality of Proposition 8 is currently being tested in federal courts.
Oregon and California offer domestic partnerships in lieu of marriage. The other states that offer either domestic partnerships or civil unions, with varying levels of legal rights and benefits, are Colorado, Delaware, Hawaii, Illinois, Maine, Maryland, Nevada, New Jersey, Rhode Island, Washington, and Wisconsin, as well as Washington, DC.
Under the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA), passed in 1996, the federal government does not recognize marriage or similar legal unions between same-sex couples. Therefore, same-sex married couples do not enjoy the federal benefits of marriage. Some federal courts, as well as the Obama administration, have deemed this unconstitutional, but the matter is not officially settled. Furthermore, under DOMA, states may refuse to recognize same-sex marriages from other states. The constitutionality of this is also questionable.
Internationally, persons of the same sex can marry in Canada (nationwide since 2005), Mexico City (since 2010), the Mexican state of Quintana Roo (since 2012), and the Brazilian state of Alagoas (since 2012), as well as Argentina, Belgium, Denmark, Iceland, the Netherlands, Norway, Portugal, South Africa, Spain, and Sweden. Movement towards marriage equality is anticipated in countries like the United Kingtom and France. Some countries allow an alternative — in the United Kingdom, for example, it is a civil partnership; in France, it is a pacte civil de solidarité, “civil pact of solidarity”; in Germany, it is an eingetragene Lebenspartnerschaft, “registered life partnership.”
Sexual acts between people of the same sex have been legal nationwide since 2003, thanks to Laurence v. Texas. Since September 20, 2011, “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” (DADT) was fully and finally repealed, allowing lesbian, gay, and bisexual people to serve openly in the United States armed forces. Federal regulation requires hospitals accepting Medicare and Medicaid funds to grant visitation and medical decision-making rights to gay and lesbian partners. Since 2009, federal hate crime laws protect LGBT people. Under Romer v. Evans, local governments cannot deny protected status to gay, lesbian, and bisexual people.
DOMA bans federal recognition of legal unions between people of the same sex. Federal law does not forbid discrimination against LGBT people in employment or housing. Despite the repeal of DADT, there are no specific protections against discrimination based on sexual orientation. Furthermore, transgender people still face challenges in the armed forces.
Sexual acts between people of the same sex have been legal in Oregon since 1972 (31 years before Laurence v. Texas). State law forbids discrimination against people based on sexual orientation or gender identity in employment, housing, and public accommodations. Same-sex partnerships have full joint adoption rights in Oregon. State hate crime laws have protected lesbian, gay, and bisexual people since 2001, and transgender people since 2007. Oregon has passed anti-bullying legislation, requiring school districts to address bullying of LGBT students.
Since the passage of Measure 36 in 2004, the Oregon Constitution has forbidden marriage for same-sex couples.
In Oregon, same-sex couples can form a domestic partnership. This legal relationship bestows all the rights, privileges, and responsibilities of marriage to the furthest extent possible under state law. However, lack of federal recognition of these relationships means domestic partnerships do not enjoy equal treatment under federal law compared to married couples. More information on Oregon domestic partnerships can be found in Basic Rights Oregon’s Domestic Partnership Resource Guide.
The lack of federal recognition of legal unions between people of the same sex causes special challenges. In particular, it leads to tax inequities.
In general, to complete an Oregon income tax return, the tax payer must enter information from their federal income tax return. The filing statuses (e.g., “single” or “married”) of both forms must match (there’s an exception for domestic partners; see below). Then when the tax payer files their state return, they must include a copy of their federal return.
In Oregon, domestic partners are treated like married couples for state tax purposes (although they must file as “registered domestic partners” instead of “married”). But they face a special burden when filing their taxes. To complete their state return, they must include information from a federal return for married couples — but the federal government does not recognize marriage or marriage-like legal unions between same-sex couples for tax purposes!
This means they must file federal “single” or “head of household” returns (as appropriate) with the IRS first — and then fill out another federal return as if they are married. This “as if” return is not filed with the IRS. Instead, it is used to complete the Oregon return. The “as if” return must be included when the Oregon return is filed. This process is explained in greater depth by the Oregon Department of Revenue at its page on personal income tax information for registered domestic partners.
California allows same-sex couples to form a domestic partnership. Most (but not all) of the rights and responsibilities of civil marriage are available to domestic partnerships. Information on this can be found at Equality California’s website.
Applications for domestic partnership can be sent by mail to the California Secretary of State’s office in Sacramento, or submitted in person at the Sacramento or Los Angeles office. For more information, visit the domestic partnership homepage at the California Secretary of State’s website.
While California does not currently allow same-sex couples to marry, such marriages contracted in California before the passage of Proposition 8 (November 4, 2008) are still valid. Furthermore, California fully recognizes marriages contracted between two people of the same sex before November 4, 2008 elsewhere in the United States, as well as in foreign countries.
Same-sex couples who got married after November 4, 2008 elsewhere in the United States or in another country get all the same rights and responsibilities of marriage in California (which is currently better than a domestic partnership). The only catch is that California must legally designate these marriages by some word other than “marriage.”