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What Is A Civil Union?


Same sex marriage issue in SC: The CJI clarified that the hearing’s scope would be limited to developing a notion of a “civil union” that finds legal recognition under the Special Marriage Act.


GS II: Polity and Governance

Dimensions of the Article:

  1. What is a civil union?
  2. Differences Between Civil Union and Marriage in the US
  3. Countries that Allow Civil Unions for Same-Sex Couples

What is a civil union?

  • A “civil union” refers to the legal status that allows same-sex couples specific rights and responsibilities normally conferred upon married couples.
  • Although a civil union resembles a marriage and brings with it employment, inheritance, property, and parental rights, there are some differences between the two.

Differences Between Civil Union and Marriage in the US

  • In 2015, the Supreme Court of the United States (SCOTUS) legalised same-sex marriages across the nation with its landmark ruling in “Obergefell v. Hodges”.
  • Prior to this ruling, a majority of the US states had civil union laws that allowed same-sex couples to marry, without providing them formal recognition of the same.
Key Differences:
  • Recognition: Civil unions were recognized solely by issuing states and not by federal law, whereas marriages were recognized both at the state and federal levels.
  • Uniformity of Benefits: Couples in civil unions were not able to enjoy the benefits of being in a civil union uniformly across all states, due to variations in state laws.
  • Spousal Privilege: Civil unions provided spousal privileges similar to those given under Section 122 of the Indian Evidence Act, whereas marriages automatically provided this privilege.
  • Conversion: In the wake of the legalisation of same-sex marriages, several civil unions were converted into marriages.
Benefits of Civil Unions:
  • Inheritance rights
  • Employment benefits to spouses
  • Joint parenting or joint ownership rights
  • The right to abstain from testifying against one’s partner

Countries that Allow Civil Unions for Same-Sex Couples

  • Sweden: Before legalising same-sex marriages in 2009, Sweden allowed civil unions for LGBTQ couples.
  • Norway: From 1993, same-sex couples in Norway could enter into civil unions. A new law was passed 15 years later that allowed such couples to marry, adopt and undergo state-sponsored artificial insemination.
  • Austria: Same-sex couples in Austria could form civil partnerships between 2010-2017. However, a court ruling deemed civil unions discriminatory in January 2019, leading to the legalisation of same-sex marriages.
  • Similarly, countries like Brazil, Uruguay, Andorra, and Chile had also recognised the right of same sex couples to enter into civil unions, even before they formally recognised their legal right to marriage.

-Source: Indian Express

March 2024