Civil Union Vs Marriage – A Best Guide Of 2023

Marriage is one of the most vital milestones within one’s life. This is because marriage allows an individual to spend a lifetime with another individual till death. Due to this selection of a right partner is equally important for an individual seeking marriage. 

In recent years, the term civil union has attained momentum within various communities in the United States. This has resulted in confusion within many regarding the difference between marriage and civil union. 

In this article we will provide you with the information regarding the difference of concept in marriage and civil union. Along with ways to determine if civil union is the right choice for you.


The ‘Definition’ Of Marriage:

The ‘Definition’ Of Marriage

The formal definition of marriage is considered as the formal union. Additionally, social and legal contracts between two individuals consenting to the union is also defined by the act of marriage. 

This consent unites the two consenting adults by economic, legal and emotional factors. 

Marriage that is conducted by contracts are known to legally obligate both the individuals. This means to have legal obligations towards each other till death or till they decide to divorce. 

Moreover, marriage also results in the legitimacy of sexual relations between two individuals. 

Furthermore, in traditional terms marriage has been observed as an act that preserves morals and civilisation within the society. 

Basic Elements Of Marriage:

Basic Elements Of Marriage

Marriage is considered to have three basic elements that makes the union legal and enforceable. These are as follows: 

Marriage in the United States is usually regulated by the Supreme Court. The US Supreme Court has held all the states in the region regarding the permission of deciding the factors associated with marriage. 

This means, it has been provided with the power of deciding whether the parties are legally accepted to enter in the union. Moreover, the judicial authority has also given States the power of deciding the factor to dissolve the marriage. 

Parties entering marriage changes their legal status and provides both the wife and husband to have new rights and obligations. 

The only power that the States does not have is prohibition of the union in the absence of a valid reason. 

In the case of Loving v. Virginia , the Supreme Court held the opinion that prohibition of interracial marriage is unconstitutional as it violates the Equal Protection Clause of the US Constitution. This judgment established that marriage is a civil right in the region. 

The ‘Definition’ Of Civil Union:

The ‘Definition’ Of Civil Union

Civil unions and marriage tend to have similar definitions. 

A civil union is a legal relationship between two individuals that provides legal status to the couple at a state level. Couples within civil unions have inheritance rights, employment benefits, property, parental rights, etc. 

Additionally, civil unions initiate through the process of application of a license. Civil unions might also lead in the payment of fees for effective application of the license. Along with these, the civil unions can also be held in terms of ceremony just like marriage to sanction the union of two individuals.  

Civil unions have been noted to gain momentum within same sex couples in the United States. In 2015, the Supreme Court in Obergefell v. Hodges declared a historic decision regarding the union between same sex couples. 

The decision declared that prohibiting marriage between same sex couples violates the principles of the US Constitution. 

This decision invalidated all the state statutes and constitutional amendments that barred the occurrence of same sex marriage. 

Civil Union Vs Marriage: The Difference

One of the major differences between marriage and civil union is that the former does not get recognized at the federal level. 

This means couples united by marriage are provided with protection in both the state and federal level. On the other hand civil unions are only protected at the state level. 

Moreover, another factor that differentiates marriage from civil union is the ability to get protection states recognize civil unions. This means, if you reside in a state that does not recognise civil unions, you will not get the benefits that are associated with it. 

For instance, if you are entering into a civil union you would not be able to attain the benefits like social security. 

This is because the Social Security Administration provides benefits to couples who are married by not to ones entering a civil union. Spouse of a veteran who is living might be eligible for health coverage in a marriage, but not within a civil union.  

Another difference between civil union and marriage is its legality in every state of the US. Marriage is recognised in every state in the US. However, civil union is not recognised in every state. 

This means if you get into a civil union in a state that recognises the union is beneficial. However, if you shift to a state that does not recognise civil union will lead you to bar from acquiring benefits of the union. 

Is Civil Union The Best Option For You? 

Civil unions are recognised in five states of the United States. These include: Colorado, Hawaii, New Jersey, Illinois and Vermont. 

This means, if you agree to enter a civil union you will be defaulted to stay within these five states. As staying in other states might not allow you to acquire benefits associated with civil unions. 

The first reason that might lead you to enter a civil union if you do believe in the institution of marriage. 

But, you are still seeking to have legal protection that is associated with it. This means, you are not willing to submit to the institution of marriage and being called married within society. 

The second reason that might attract you to civil union is not willing to recognise the union at the federal level for tax related purposes. This will be beneficial for you if you are entitled to a marriage tax penalty. Or have higher tax if filed jointly.

If you are a same sex couple and seeking civil union, it could be obsolete if you do not reside in the mentioned five states. 

Moreover, same sex marriage has been made federally recognisable in the US. If you are still seeking union being a same sex couple, domestic partnership is a better option for you.  

Domestic Partnership: An Alternative For Same Sex Couple Seeking Union 

Domestic partnership is recognised in the US by the following states: 

  • California 
  • District of Columbia 
  • Maine 
  • Nevada 
  • Oregan 
  • Washington 
  • Nevada 

A domestic partner is defined by a union of two unmarried individuals sharing common living space and has an intimate relation. 

This is not legally recognised as marriage by the state where the couples reside. Domestic partnership is similar to civil union that does not recognise the parties as legally married couples. 

Couples seeking domestic partnership have the ability to declare the union through registering with the State. 

This provides them with a marriage license or certification that could be commemorated as per your own wish. You could either arrange a quick courthouse ceremony or grand destination affair. 


Deciding to choose a form of union could be a challenging task for any couple. Due to this, it is crucial for you to effectively determine the reasons that you are considering seeking a civil union or domestic partnership. 

Moreover, you would also be able to have awareness regarding the rights and obligations that are associated with civil unions. 

So, it is advised that you contact and discuss with a professional marriage lawyer who would assist you go through the whole process in a legally effective manner.

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