As readers of this site know, I have followed recent enactment or consideration of domestic partnership and civil union laws in states, counties, and cities. Examples include Wisconsin [Wisconsin Stats. Ch. 770, (2009 Wisconsin Act 28, Sec. 3218, at pages 604ff.], Colorado [(SB 09-088), ch. 267, p. 1218, § 2], Nevada (Domestic Partnership Act), Hawaii (HB444), North Carolina's Mecklenburg County, and cities in Texas). (See this list of states with domestic partnership laws.) In addition to bringing same-sex couples protections and benefits, domestic partnerships have the long-term prospect of shifting opinion in favor of marriage equality.
Just before New Jersey's Senate defeated marriage equality legislation, USA Today described renewed focus by some marriage-equality supporters on the promise of domestic partnerships:
Two states [Maine and New York] rejected same-sex marriage, reflecting the fact that most Americans do not support it, says John Green, a political science professor at the University of Akron. No other state is actively considering legislation. As a result, Green says, advocates will push for states to grant civil unions or domestic partnerships, which allow similar rights to those of married couples. Americans are more likely to support those relationships, he says ... "By picking away a little bit by little bit, advocates hope to create a trend and shift public opinion, as people see it's not as pernicious as they may have thought," Green says. "The ultimate goal is same-sex marriage."Lee Badgett, of UCLA School of Law's Williams Institute, told USA Today that
This year ... a campaign for legal rights will focus on couples in the middle of the country, where Colorado, Nevada and Wisconsin last year approved domestic partnerships — legally recognized unions between unmarried couples, homosexual or heterosexual.Law professor John Culhane said yesterday that despite the setback for marriage equality supporters in New Jersey, "every public debate, every chance to bring this message forward, is itself a step towards victory." While the YouTube of the impending Perry trial will obviously inform the debate, renewed focus on domestic partnerships will also, especially in states that ban same-sex marriages (and legal status for "substantially similar" relationships.) More same-sex couples will have opportunity to benefit from these laws, as evidenced by almost 7000 same-sex couples who have registered partnerships in Washington.