Same-Sex Marriage vs. Civil Union vs. Domestic Partnership: What’s the Difference?

Mrs-and-MrsOften when we speak of marriage, we are really referring to what many may still consider a “traditional” union between a man and a woman whose legitimacy is recognized by law. However, wedded unions between same-sex couples, their definition, and how each is recognized by a particular State, can still be a matter of confusion, especially when it comes to understanding the various benefits and protections each may (or may not) provide under the law.

Here we try to clear up some of the confusion by explaining what each union means and the rights that are associated with each according to New York State law.

Gay MarriageSame Sex Marriage

On July 24th, 2011, Governor Andrew Cuomo signed into law same-sex marriage, finally giving same-sex couples the same rights and protection under the law as heterosexual couples. Lawfully married individuals, including individuals in same-sex marriages, are entitled to more New York State rights and benefits than those registered as domestic partners here in New York City. If an individual lawfully enters into a same-sex marriage in a jurisdiction outside New York, they are entitled to most of the New York State rights and benefits available to people lawfully married in New York.

Click here to read more about NYS marriage requirements, including fees, identification, and timetables.

Civil Unioncivil-unions-14In New York State, “Civil Union” is synonymous for “Domestic Partnership”.

Domestic Partnership

On July 7th, 1997, Mayor Rudolph Guiliani signed into law this historic legislation. A Domestic Partnership is a legal relationship permitted under the laws of the State and City of New York for couples that have a close and committed personal relationship. The Domestic Partnership Law recognizes the diversity of family configurations, including lesbian, gay, and other non-traditional couples.


The fee to register a Domestic Partnership is $35 by credit card or money order payable to the City Clerk.

You and your partner may register to become a Domestic Partnership if you meet the following requirements:

  • Both you and your partner are New York City residents or at least one of you is employed by the City of New York on the date of registration.
  • Both persons are 18 years of age or older.
  • Neither you nor your partner is married or related by blood in a manner that would bar his or her marriage in New York State.
  • Both of you have a close and committed personal relationship, live together, and have been living together on a continuous basis.
  • You and your partner must be able to truthfully state an identical residential address on the application form for the Domestic Partnership.
  • Neither you nor your partner is currently in another Domestic Partnership or has been registered as a member of another Domestic Partnership within the last six months.

Application Procedure

If you and your partner wish to register as Domestic Partners, you will need to pick up the affidavit from the City Clerk’s Office. Alternatively, you can submit an application online to the Office of the City Clerk via City Clerk Online. In either case, you both must appear in person with an acceptable form of identification and the fee of $35 (by credit card or money order payable to the City Clerk) to complete your application. If you have not submitted an online application, bring the completed affidavit with you.

Required Types of Identification

Acceptable forms of identification for the Domestic Partnership application are:

  • Valid driver license or non-driver identification card issued by the Department of Motor Vehicles
  • Original Birth Certificate
  • Passport
  • Official School Record
  • United States Permanent Resident Card
  • Employee Identification Card

Certificate of Domestic Partnership

Once your application has been processed and the fee has been paid, you and your partner will receive a Certificate of Domestic Partnership. You may purchase additional Certificates for an additional fee of $9 by credit card or money order payable to the City Clerk. Your Certificate constitutes notice of a registered Domestic Partnership when you or your partner apply for rights and benefits available to Domestic Partners.

These rights include, but are not limited to:

  • Bereavement leave and child care leave for City employees
  • Visitation in a City correctional and juvenile detention facility
  • Visitation in facilities operated by the New York City Health and Hospitals Corporation
  • Eligibility to qualify as a family member to be added by the New York City Housing Authority to an existing tenancy as a permanent resident
  • Eligibility to qualify as a family member entitled to succeed to the tenancy or occupancy rights of a tenant or cooperator in buildings under the jurisdiction of the Department of Housing Preservation and Development
  • Health benefits provided by the City of New York and employees and retirees and eligible members of their family pursuant to stipulation or collective bargaining


All information contained within is courtesy of NYC City Clerk’s Office. For further and more detailed information, please visit their website directly at:


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