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Legal Recognition of Nonmarital Same-Sex Relationships

The demand for legal recognition of same-sex relationships in the United States began as a natural extension of the broader goals of equality and individual freedom espoused by the LGBTQ rights movement. Starting in the late 1970s, the earliest efforts to secure recognition focused primarily on employee benefits, specifically employer-provided health insurance. Framing the issue as a question of “equal pay for equal work,” employees lobbied their employers to extend spousal benefits to their same-sex partners in the form of “domestic partner” benefits. The first wave of the HIV/AIDS epidemic in the mid-1980s highlighted the importance of legal recognition. Same-sex partners were refused hospital visitation rights, disregarded in medical decision making, evicted from apartments, and denied the property rights typically extended to surviving spouses ...

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