OLR Research Report

October 10, 2008




By: Susan Price, Principal Legislative Analyst

You asked (1) what states and foreign entities allow gay and lesbian couples to marry or enter into equivalent relationships and (2) what same-sex relationships are expressly recognized as being the equivalent of a civil partnership under the laws of the United Kingdom. We have used multiple sources to verify our interpretation of laws written in languages other than English.


Six nations (Belgium, Canada, Netherlands, Norway, Spain, and South Africa) and two U.S. states (California and Massachusetts) allow same-sex couples to marry. At least 11 other nations and four U.S. states permit gay and lesbian couples to enter into legal relationships such as civil unions or domestic partnerships that are equivalent or nearly equivalent to civil marriage.

The United Kingdom's Civil Partnership Act of 2004, which gives same-sex couples rights and responsibilities equivalent to civil marriage, contains a provision (Schedule 20) listing overseas relationships that it recognizes as equivalent to a civil partnership under the laws of the United Kingdom. After amendments added in December, 2005, Schedule 20 specifies same-sex relationships from 20 foreign countries and U.S. states. Since the U.K. law was last updated, at least 13 other countries and U.S. states have enacted laws that give legal recognition to same sex relationships; it is unclear how many of these may be considered the equivalent of a U.K. civil partnership.



The entities that expressly grant gay and lesbian couples the right to marry are:

1. Netherlands (2000),

2. Belgium (2003),

3. Canada (some provinces 2004; throughout federal system 2005),

4. Massachusetts (2004),

5. Spain (2005),

6. South Africa (2005),

7. California (2008), and

8. Norway (gender neutral marriage law becomes effective January 1, 2009).

Legal Relationship Equivalent, or Nearly Equivalent, to Marriage

We list below the entities that we have identified as creating legal relationships for same-sex couples that are either equivalent, or nearly equivalent, to civil marriage. Where possible and within language constraints, we have noted areas in which people in these relationships enjoy fewer rights.

1. Denmark (1989 –adoption and child custody rights are limited, laws making explicit reference to the gender of one member of a couple are excluded, and treaty rights must be ratified by all signatories);

2. Sweden (1994);

3. Iceland (1996);

4. Greenland (1996);

5. Vermont (1999);

6. Germany (2000 – unequal treatment under tax laws and lesser adoption rights);

7. Finland (2001 – lesser rights to adoption and a shared surname);

8. United Kingdom (2004);

9. Luxembourg (2004 – lesser adoption rights);

10. Switzerland (2004 – lesser rights to adoption, fertility treatment, and surname changes);

11. Connecticut (2005);

12. New Jersey (2006);

13. New Hampshire (2007);

14. Hungary (2007 –lesser rights to adoption, fertility treatment, and surname changes); and

15. Uruguay (2008 – state of Rio Grande de Sul only).


Schedule 20 of the U.K.'s Civil Partnership Act of 2004, as amended in 2005, deems the following foreign relationships to be the equivalent of its own civil partnership:

1. Andorra (stable partnership union);

2. Australia (Tasmania only – significant relationship);

3. Belgium (both marriage and statutory cohabitation);

4. Canada (marriage, Nova Scotia domestic partnership, and Quebec civil union);

5. Denmark (registered partnership);

6. Finland (registered partnership);

7. France (civil solidarity pact);

8. Germany (life partnership);

9. Iceland (confirmed cohabitation);

10. Luxembourg (registered partnership);

11. Netherlands (both marriage and registered partnership);

12. New Zealand (civil union);

13. Norway (registered partnership);

14. Uruguay (civil union);

15. California (domestic partnership1);

16. Connecticut (civil union);

17. Maine (domestic partnership);

18. Massachusetts (marriage);

19. New Jersey (domestic partnership2); and

20. Vermont (civil union).


1 California established same-sex marriage after the most recent update of the U.K. law. Other newly-authorized same sex relationships include marriages in Norway and South Africa; civil unions in the U.S. states of New Jersey and New Hampshire and in Mexico's Coahila state and Mexico City; domestic partnerships in Oregon and Washington; unions in various Australian states; and registered partnerships in the Czech Republic, Slovenia, and Switzerland. Although we have found no legal interpretation, it appears that many of these legal arrangements will be found to be equivalent to a U.K. civil partnership.

2 New Jersey adopted civil unions after the most recent update of the U.K. law.