What exactly is Civil Union, and how does it vary from Marriage?

  • The Indian judiciary is currently hearing arguments about the Special Marriage Act’s legal recognition of same-sex couples.
  • The Centre has challenged the petitions’ legality as well as the judiciary’s authority to grant legal recognition to the “socio-legal institution” of marriage.
  • The CJI has underlined, however, that the hearing’s scope will be confined to defining a concept of a Civil Union that will gain legal recognition under the Act.
  • This page defines civil partnerships, how they vary from marriage, and which countries recognise them.

What is a Civil Union?

  • A civil union is a legal status that grants same-sex couples certain rights and duties that are generally granted to married couples.
  • Civil unions are similar to marriages in that they include employment, inheritance, property, and parenting rights, among other things.

What distinguishes a civil union from marriage?

  • Prior to the Supreme Court’s historic decision in “Obergefell v. Hodges” in 2015, a majority of states had civil union statutes that enabled same-sex couples to marry without statutory recognition.
  • Civil unions were only recognised by issuing states, not by federal law, therefore such couples could not enjoy the benefits of being in a civil partnership universally across all states.
  • Several civil unions were converted into marriages following the legalisation of same-sex marriages.

What other countries allow civil unions?

  • Civil unions are legal in a number of nations.
  • Prior to the legalisation of same-sex weddings in Sweden in 2009, LGBTQ couples in the country may register for civil unions and enjoy rights such as the right to adopt.
  • Couples in Norway may enter into civil partnerships beginning in 1993, which paved the way for a new law 15 years later that allowed such couples to marry, adopt, and undergo state-sponsored artificial insemination.
  • Between 2010 to 2017, same-sex couples in Austria may join civil partnerships, until a court judgement declared civil unions discriminatory and such marriages were legalised.
  • Similarly, countries such as Brazil, Uruguay, Andorra, and Chile recognised the ability of same-sex couples to create civil unions before recognising their legal right to marry. 
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