What is Civil Union?
During the SC’s hearing on same sex couples’ right to marry, the Centre, represented by Solicitor General Tushar Mehta, challenged the validity of the petitions and the judiciary’s authority to grant legal recognition to the “socio-legal institution” of marriage. In response, the Chief Justice of India clarified that the hearing would focus solely on establishing the concept of a “civil union” that is legally recognized under the Special Marriage Act.
Legal Status of Civil Unions
A civil union is the legal status that provides same-sex couples specific rights and responsibilities normally conferred upon married couples. This means that same-sex couples who are in a civil union have access to legal protections and benefits that were previously unavailable to them. These rights are often similar to those conferred upon married couples, such as inheritance rights, employment benefits to spouses, joint parenting or joint ownership rights, and the right to abstain from testifying against one’s partner.
Difference between Civil Unions and Marriage
One of the main differences between civil unions and marriages is the level of legal recognition they receive. Civil unions are recognized by issuing states, and not by federal law. This means that same-sex couples in civil unions may not be able to enjoy the benefits of being in a civil union uniformly, across all states. This disparity of recognition existed in the US, where states had to determine their own marriage laws. In contrast, marriages are recognized by both state and federal law, which means that the rights and benefits conferred upon married couples are uniform throughout the country.
Legalisation of Same-Sex Marriages
In 2015, the Supreme Court of the United States (SCOTUS) legalised same-sex marriages across the country with its landmark ruling in “Obergefell v. Hodges”. Before 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. In the wake of the legalisation of same-sex marriages, several civil unions were converted into marriages.
Other Countries that Recognize Civil Unions
The United States is not the only country that recognizes civil unions. Sweden legalised same-sex marriages in 2009, but prior to that, LGBTQ couples could apply for civil unions and enjoy benefits such as the right to adopt. Similarly, couples in Norway enjoyed the right to enter into civil unions from 1993, which gave way to a new law 15 years later, allowing such couples to marry, adopt and undergo state-sponsored artificial insemination.
In Austria, same-sex couples could form civil partnerships between 2010 and 2017, but civil unions were deemed discriminatory in January 2019 when same-sex marriages were legalised. Other countries that have recognised the right of same-sex couples to enter into civil unions include Brazil, Uruguay, Andorra, and Chile.
Category: Legal & Constitution Current Affairs