Healthcare Equality Index: What is meant by same-sex partner/spouse/significant other?
There are many ways in which same-sex couples can have their relationships legally recognized. These include marriage, civil union and domestic partnership. Each of these has legal implications that impact rights of individuals to receive and access healthcare.
The term “same-sex spouse” is used here to refer to someone who is legally married to someone of the same-sex. In states that have established marriage equality for same-sex couples, same-sex spouses have all the rights and responsibilities afforded to different-sex spouses under state law. These rights include medical decision-making rights as the next of kin for their spouse in the event their spouse becomes incapacitated.
In some states where same-sex marriage is not available, same-sex couples have other vehicles through which they can obtain legal recognition of their relationship. These vehicles include: domestic partnership affidavits, local or state domestic partnership registrations, or state-issued civil unions. These state-legalized protections are not available uniformly or recognized by federal laws; therefore, many same-sex couples choose to enter into separate legal agreements to protect their rights. These agreements include those directly related to healthcare such as living wills or healthcare proxies as well as other documents such as a cohabitation agreement. The term “same-sex partner” refers to same-sex couples that have a legally recognized relationship through these means.
In situations where visitation access or medical decision-making rights are determined by requirements that couples demonstrate their legal relationship, same-sex partners/spouses should not be held to a higher standard of documentation than their different-sex counterparts.