A domestic partnership generally refers to a committed relationship between two individuals who are either a same-sex or opposite-sex couple. A few states license marriages for same-sex couples; some recognize same-sex civil unions; some provide legal recognition to domestic partnerships. In some instances, these state laws limit domestic partnership status to same-sex couples, or opposite-sex couples where one partner is at least 62 years of age or eligible for Social Security.
Some organizations use the term “spousal equivalents,” which may be defined as those partners who are unable to legalize their relationship through marriage. Following the legalization of same-sex marriage in Massachusetts, some employers in that state have discontinued domestic partnership benefits since same-sex partners now have the legal option to marry. Given the number of possible definitions, employers should determine their objectives and establish corresponding criteria when creating policies that will affect employees with domestic partners, taking care to clearly identify which relationships will meet their definition of domestic partnership.