The Oregon domestic partnership for same-sex couples

Family law issues like marriage are mostly matters of state law. Discussions about whether same-sex couples should be able to marry are ongoing in states across the country. Short of marriage, some states legally recognize alternative relationships for same-sex couples like domestic partnerships, civil unions or reciprocal beneficiaries.

Oregon domestic partnership law

Oregon, for its part, sanctioned same-gender domestic partnerships in 2007, after Oregon voters had amended the state constitution in 2004 to define marriage as between a woman and a man, taking same-sex marriage off the table for state lawmakers.

The legislature made findings in the domestic partnership law that describe being motivated by principles of equality, anti-discrimination, freedom, civil rights and family stability. The findings also acknowledge that the Oregon domestic partnership may not be recognized outside the state's borders.

Oregon's Family Fairness Act outlines rights, benefits and responsibilities of same-sex domestic partners, but does not establish domestic partnerships between people of opposite genders. Some other states also recognize these types of arrangements between opposite-sex couples, offering them something other than traditional marriage.

Basically, the new Oregon domestic partnership law is a legislative attempt to do as much as possible to make same-sex domestic partnerships function legally like a marriage. For example, the law says that the same privileges, immunities, rights, benefits and responsibilities bestowed by law on a married person is also granted to a domestic partner, including those matters dealing with children, family leave, inheritance, hospital visits, medical decisions, Oregon state taxes and dissolution of domestic partnerships.

Civil contract

An Oregon domestic partnership is a civil contract between two adult, competent people of the same gender. At least one of them must be an Oregon resident. Certain close relatives may not become domestic partners and a partnership entered into by "force or fraud" can be voided by a court.

To enter into a domestic partnership, the parties execute and file a "Declaration of Domestic Partnership" document with their county clerk's office. Doing so also has the legal effect of consenting to Oregon state court jurisdiction should one of the partners want to dissolve or annul the partnership, or obtain a legal separation.

When a domestic partnership is dissolved, the same issues, rights and obligations are decided by the court that would be in a divorce like child custody and support, property and debt division, and spousal support.

The future

It will be interesting to watch the legal evolution of same-sex relationships in the state. In July 2013, a petition drive began across Oregon to put a measure to the voters on the 2014 ballot that if passed would amend the state constitution by removing the 2004 provision that effectively banned gay marriage. Legalizing same-sex marriage in the state as an alternative to domestic partnerships could bring gay married couples some benefits under federal law not available to same-sex domestic partners like estate and tax advantages.

Seek legal advice

In the meantime, any Oregonian contemplating a same-sex domestic partnership or taking steps to dissolve one should speak with an experienced Oregon divorce attorney who handles domestic partnership cases. A domestic partnership lawyer can advise such a client about whether he or she should consider a domestic partnership agreement, and about the rights and obligations that come with an Oregon domestic partnership. This area of law is complex; don't try to go it alone without competent legal counsel.