The History Of Marriage And Domestic Partnerships

Jun 16, 2023 | marriage, Relationships

Marriage and domestic partnerships are two types of legally recognized relationships that have evolved over time in the United States (and continue to do so). Marriage is a legal and social union between two people that is recognized by law, culture, and religion. On the other hand, domestic partnerships are relationships between two people who live together and have a domestic life together but are not married. In this article, we will explore the history of marriage and domestic partnerships, their differences, whether or not you can get a prenup with a domestic partnership and more.


History of Marriage

Marriage has been an essential part of human society for thousands of years. The earliest recorded marriage dates back to ancient Mesopotamia, around 2350 BC. The marriage traditions in ancient times varied widely depending on the culture and the social status of the individuals involved.

In Medieval Europe, marriage was often a political or economic arrangement. The father of the bride would negotiate a marriage contract with the groom’s family, which would determine the financial arrangements and social status of the couple.

During the Victorian Era, marriage became more of a romantic and emotional union. The concept of courtship and love before marriage emerged, and weddings became elaborate celebrations of love.

In the 20th century, the institution of marriage underwent significant changes. The feminist movement led to more gender equality within marriage, and divorce became more common. The legalization of same-sex marriage in some countries, such as the United States, has been a recent development that has challenged traditional notions of marriage.


History of Domestic Partnerships

Domestic partnerships are a relatively new legal union that emerged around the year 2000. Domestic partnerships were originally created to provide legal and economic benefits to same-sex couples who were not allowed to marry.

Domestic partnerships have evolved over time, and today they are available to both same-sex and opposite-sex couples in some states, but not all. Domestic partnerships provide legal and economic benefits to couples who are not married but share a domestic life.

After the Obergefell decision in 2015, many states eradicated the ability to get a domestic partnership since same-sex marriage was now legalized! However, there are still some states where you can choose domestic partnership OR marriage, regardless of your gender. 

States that recognize domestic partnerships (whether statewide or in only select cities) include Arizona, California, Colorado, Connecticut, Florida, Georgia, Hawaii, Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Louisiana, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, Michigan, Minnesota, Missouri, New Mexico, New York, Nevada, New Jersey, North Carolina, Ohio, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Texas, Virginia, Vermont, Washington.


Comparison between Marriage and Domestic Partnerships

Marriage and domestic partnerships have significant legal, social, and religious differences. Legally, married couples are entitled to more benefits than domestic partners. For example, married couples can file joint tax returns, inherit property without paying estate taxes, and have access to their spouse’s social security benefits, whereas domestic partnerships may not have these same benefits (depending on the state).

Socially, marriage is often seen as a more significant commitment than a domestic partnership. Rightfully so, as it is typically much harder of a commitment to break (legally) than a domestic partnership. The termination of a domestic partnership varies from state to state, but it can be as simple as filing a document with the state notifying of the termination of the relationship. On the other hand, ending a marriage is not so straightforward and can include years of divorce proceedings. 

Not only are marriages harder to end, but marriage is also usually associated with religious and cultural traditions, whereas domestic partnerships are primarily a legal status, especially now that marriage is legal for same-sex couples.

Religious differences between marriage and domestic partnerships can also vary widely depending on the religion and cultural beliefs of the individuals involved. Some religions do not recognize domestic partnerships and only recognize marriage as a valid union.


Challenges Faced by Domestic Partnerships

Domestic partnerships have faced various challenges throughout their history. Legally, domestic partnerships have not always been recognized as valid union, which has led to many legal battles for same-sex couples seeking equal rights. 

On top of that, the benefits offered to domestic partnerships are typically not as extensive as those provided through marriage. 

Socially, domestic partnerships have faced stigma and discrimination. Some people view domestic partnerships as inferior to marriage and do not believe that they should be given the same legal and economic benefits as married couples.

Economically, domestic partnerships have also faced challenges. Domestic partners may not have access to the same financial benefits as married couples, such as joint health insurance, retirement benefits, and certain federal benefits.


Future of Marriage and Domestic Partnerships

The future of marriage and domestic partnerships is constantly evolving. Changing attitudes towards marriage and domestic partnerships have led to more acceptance and equality for same-sex couples. For example, in Massachusetts, two towns have legalized domestic partnerships for polyamorous couples (a.k.a. People in a relationship that consists of more than two people). 


Polyamory and Domestic Partnerships

In the United States, polyamorous relationships are not legally recognized within the context of marriage. This means that individuals cannot legally marry more than one person at the same time. However, some individuals in polyamorous relationships may seek to obtain legal recognition through domestic partnerships. However, this is only legal in two cities in the United States: Somerville and Cambridge, Massachusetts.

In Somerville and Cambridge, domestic partners do not necessarily have to be romantic partners. They can be platonic “lifemates” who wish to purchase real estate together and obtain health insurance benefits. However, they may also seek out additional romantic relationships outside of the domestic partnership or even add new partners to the existing domestic partnership.

Despite the legal recognition of polyamorous relationships as domestic partnerships in Somerville and Cambridge, there are still challenges to overcome. Health insurance companies may not accept multiple-person relationships as valid for health care benefits, which can create difficulties for those in polyamorous relationships seeking to obtain legal and economic protections.


Prenups, Marriage, and Domestic Partnerships

Prenuptial agreements, or prenups, are legal documents between future spouses that outline financial matters. Prenups are only effective upon marriage. In other words, NO, you cannot have a prenup for a domestic partnership. But there may be alternatives, such as cohabitation agreements.

phrase forever and always in the hands The History Of Marriage And Domestic Partnerships

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs) about marriage and domestic partnerships

Q: When was the first marriage recorded in history?

A: The first recorded marriage dates back to ancient Mesopotamia, around 2350 BC.


Q: What is the difference between a civil union and a domestic partnership?

A: A civil union and domestic partnership can vary slightly in what benefits are offered and what is required to get one. For example, in New Jersey, to be eligible for a civil union, you only need to be 18 years old. To register a domestic partnership, you must be 62 years of age. What the exact difference between a civil union and a domestic partnership will vary depending on what state you’re in.


Q: How long have domestic partnerships been around? 

A: Domestic partnerships were first introduced in 2001 in California.


Q: How have economic factors affected the institution of marriage?

A: Economic factors, such as the rise of the feminist movement and changing gender roles, have affected the institution of marriage by challenging traditional notions of gender and power dynamics within relationships.


Q: What is the future of marriage and domestic partnerships in the United States?

A: The future of marriage and domestic partnerships in the United States is constantly evolving. With the recent legalization of polyamorous domestic partnerships in Massachusetts in response to COVID-19, we think the next big movement will be nationwide acceptance of polyamory and domestic partnerships.



In conclusion, the history of marriage and domestic partnerships is a complex and ever-evolving topic. From ancient traditions to modern legal battles, the institution of marriage and the concept of domestic partnerships have undergone significant changes over time.

Although there are significant legal, social, and religious differences between marriage and domestic partnerships, both types of relationships provide couples with the opportunity to form a committed and loving union.

As society continues to evolve, it is likely that the future of marriage and domestic partnerships will continue to change. At the end of the day, it is essential to recognize and respect the legal and social rights of all couples, regardless of their marital status.


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