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This article categorizes and explains the variety of forms of relationship recognition that have emerged in the United States over the last dozen or so years. Five issues regarding same-sex marital and nonmarital relationship statuses are examined: (1) eligibility, (2) benefits, (3) dissolution, (4) recognition from other jurisdictions, and (5) the intersection of state and federal law. The article then offers various proposals about what states should do in the face of the options that have emerged: (a) states that recognize same-sex marriages and nonmarital relationships should adapt their statutes to recognize “substantially similar” relationships; (b) jurisdictions should adopt statutes that require those who solemnize their relationship in a state to consent to that same state's jurisdiction for purposes of dissolution; and (c) states should adopt provisions that disentangle, to the extent possible, state laws relating to marriage and marriage-like relationships from federal laws relating to marriage. The article also stresses the importance of balancing the benefits of providing people with many options against the value of inter-jurisdictional recognition.

Key Points for the Family Court Community:

  • There is a patchwork of recognition and non-recognition of same-sex and nonmarital relationship statuses in the United States.
  • There is a surprising lack of uniformity among states that do in some way recognize same-sex and/or nonmarital relationships in regards to: the rights, benefits, and obligations that come with a status, who can register or be recognized under such status, and how a state recognizes same-sex and nonmarital relationships from other jurisdictions (if it recognizes them at all).
  • The practical implications of this lack of uniformity include confusion and legal problems for those in same-sex marriages and nonmarital relationships; perhaps the most dramatic example is being unable to legally dissolve one's relationship.