Numbers, Facts and Trends Shaping Your World

Civil Unions Spread, But Gays Want to Wed

by Christine Vestal, Staff Writer


When New Hampshire state Rep. Jim Splaine (D) held hearings on his same-sex civil union bill, none of the state’s gay rights activists showed up. A week later they packed a hearing room to support a competing bill allowing gay marriage.

Despite the cold shoulder, New Hampshire lawmakers in April approved a historic civil union bill offering same-sex couples the same state-level rights and responsibilities as under traditional marriage laws. On Thursday (May 31), Gov. John Lynch (D) signed the measure, making New Hampshire the fourth state to offer civil unions.

The Granite State’s experience is not surprising. Most gay rights activists take a hard line in their quest for so-called marriage equality, while lawmakers in about a dozen states are taking a more pragmatic approach — opting for the legal protections and financial benefits of matrimony without the title, according to Jay Barth, professor of politics at Hendrix College in Conway, Ark.

Vermont, Connecticut and New Jersey also offer civil unions, a legal relationship that didn’t exist before 2000.

Taking a slightly different path, Oregon and Washington state enacted domestic partnership laws this year, giving committed gay couples many of the legal benefits heterosexual married couples enjoy. California, Maine and Hawaii have similar laws.

“I’m not bothered by the semantics of marriage versus civil unions,” Splaine told “Was a marriage bill feasible this year? No. Did we pass essentially the same thing? Yes,” said Splaine, who is gay.

Although gay rights activists say they are grateful for the legal protections that come with civil unions — including hospital visitation and burial rights, inheritance without a will and access to a partner’s health-insurance benefits — they stridently object to the notion that civil unions are the same as marriage.

Icon for promotion number 1

Sign up for our weekly newsletter

Fresh data delivery Saturday mornings

Icon for promotion number 1

Sign up for The Briefing

Weekly updates on the world of news & information