Facebook Adds ‘Civil Union’ Relationship Status (and Don’t Kill Me But I Don’t Like It)

What Everyone Else Thinks:

As of yesterday, Facebook has added “Civil Union” and “Domestic Partnership” as relationship status options for your profile. GLAAD is enthusiastic about the change:

“The Gay & Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation (GLAAD), the nation’s lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) media advocacy and anti-defamation organization, today applauded Facebook for adding ‘In a Civil Union’ and ‘In a Domestic Partnership’ options to user profiles. The option is now available for users in the U.S., Canada, the United Kingdom, France and Australia.”

“Today, Facebook sent a clear message in support of gay and lesbian couples to users across the globe. By acknowledging the relationships of countless loving and committed same-sex couples in the U.S. and abroad, Facebook has set a new standard of inclusion for social media. As public support for marriage equality continues to grow, we will continue to work for the day when all couples have the opportunity to marry and have their relationship recognized by their community, both online and off.”

Actually, anybody who’s anybody is really enthusiastic about the change!


“I am glad that this news story is a reminder of the inequality LGBT folks face world-wide and how one’s geographic location can influence their ability to engage with social media.”

The Human Rights Campaign:

“As LGBT people face a patchwork of relationship recognition laws, this gives people more tools to adequately describe their relationship. Facebook has been a company that has tried to be inclusive of the LGBT community and this just one sign of it.”

The Village Voice:

“Being tacky about your personal life online is now an equal-opportunity endeavor.”

What I Think:

Despite all of this… I’m not exactly jumping for joy at this news. When I hear the words “Civil Union” or “Domestic Partnership,” I think “inequality” and “separate but equal” (which as we know is not equal at all).

FACEBOOK-CIVIL-UNIONI understand that “Civil Union” and “Domestic Partnership” are current states of certain relationships right now – I know this is how some people identify their status. But would it be if (god forbid) the word “marriage” were legal for us? To me, “Civil Union” means “something someone created so they could continue to deny our commitments and our rights, which other people in other commitments are granted.”

MARRIAGE. That’s the word I want. Nothing else. I won’t settle for less than equal.
So I feel weird about encouraging inequalities like “Civil Unions.” I mean, right? I want to have the same words as straight people because we’re all the same and that’s what the gay marriage fight is about, so why are we celebrating this?

I don’t mean to diminish Facebook’s good deed. I think I’m just saying that GLAAD should know better… or something. I don’t know, these are just my feelings about it. I’d rather “Civil Union” and “Domestic Partnership” not be options on Facebook’s relationship status because gay men and women should be able to select “Engaged” and fucking “Married” like everyone else.

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Cofounder and Design Director of Autostraddle. Professional web/graphic designer. Whiskey enthusiast. Drumming hobbyist. A past speaker at the 2010 BlogHer Conference ("Good Blog Design: The Role of Layout in an Online Medium"), 2013 Salon LGBTQ Conference ("Innovative Best Practices for Brand-Blogger Campaigns") and featured in the Los Angeles Edition of Refinery29's 30 Under 30 in 2013. Co-owns and manages Tully's Training, a dog training company in Los Angeles. Twitter: @a_ex Instagram: alexxxvegaaa

Alex has written 100 articles for us.


  1. Honestly, I would much prefer a civil union or domestic partnership to a marriage, whether it was with a man or a woman. Marriage has lots of cultural baggage with it that I don’t want. I want the government’s role in defining my relationship to be limited to taxes and medical decisions and whatnot, which seems to be more of what a civil union or domestic partnership is.

    • ^^
      However: I also think it’s complete and total shit that people who DO want to get married can’t just fucking do it.

      • Both of you are right. People who want to enter a committed relationship (gay, straight, etc.) should be able to and reap the full benefits and rights as someone who gets married receives.

        Anyone who does want to get married should be able to.

        It has bothered me for a while, though, that the highest framework of legal recognition of a relationship is one that carries so much religious and cultural connotations.

        • For me, though, those religious connotations are exactly why I want to get married. I want the Church to recognize my relationship! My faith is more important to me than anything else, and yes, if I thought my orientation was wrong or that the exercise of it was a sin, I would do my best to be celibate my entire life. God first. Which is exactly why it’s so awful that the Church at large is such a homophobic institution. When the Church speaks as the body of Christ, they interpret the will of God, and there is a part of me (however irrational) that will always doubt my decision to live out my gayness until the Church can admit they’ve been awful and marry me to the person of my choice.

          • There are some great queer-friendly churches out there – my mother is an active and insanely happy member of an inclusive ELCA, and you’ve also got the Metropolitan Community Church, the United Church of Christ, and even the Unitarian Universalists if you’re happy walking with people from different paths. :) And probably more I’m forgetting about.

            They all recognize same-sex unions! (Not sure if all of them use the terminology of marriage specifically.)

          • That’s really encouraging! Good point- I need to take a closer look at churches that are supportive of equality.

          • if you don’t mind my asking, which denomination do you currently attend/identify with? i’m a united methodist who is also queer; and my faith is really important to me, too.

  2. Well, I totally agree. Also I think it blurs the line between relationship and domestic partnership. Which is why I am now listed as in a domestic partnership with my (male) cat.

  3. I feel conflicted about this too. I’m sure there are tons of people who are thrilled to have a status that better defines their relationship, and for then I am happy.

    On the other hand, I do think civil unions fall into a “separate but equal” category. It’s awesome that they are available to some people, but it does still separate the LGTB community as being “different”, and so many people just want to viewed as the same.

    I think there should be a civil union or domestic partnership option for EVERYONE that is also legally the same as marriage. That way, gay or straight, you don’t have to have a “marriage” which might have a lot of historical or religious ties you don’t want to associate with.

    • I suspect that all the options are going to be available to everyone. My partner and I have been listed as “engaged” since she got on Facebook a few months ago!

    • I feel the same way. I think the best solution would be giving ALL interested couples state-recognized civil unions, and whoever wished to get “married” could have their commitment ceremony however they wished to. Then, we could all be equal, and everybody would maybe just shut up already.

      …My grammar in this is terrible and I hate myself for it, but I just don’t have the energy to reword it all.

  4. I also feel conflicted. At first, it didn’t bother me. Hooray, now everyone can define their relationship however they see fit.

    Then, I saw that one of my straight friends changed her status from “in a relationship” to “in a domestic partnership” with her boyfriend. She is not married yet, nor in a domestic partnership. It bothered me because I know that she and her boyfriend are planning to get married. Marry, not get a domestic partnership. So I couldn’t help but feel like she did it just for show. Like she was doing it to get a pat on the back from her gay friends and allies. I’m sure she intended it as a show of solidarity, but it didn’t feel that way because she still has (and plans to use) rights that gay people don’t have.

    • I thought a domestic partnership was when a couple (gay or straight) lives together, shares bills/expenses, shares responsibilities, lists one another on taxes, etc. My boyfriend and I lived together for a year and a half. We weren’t engaged but we were more than just “boyfriend/girlfriend.” I don’t know what else to call it but a domestic partnership. So I don’t think your friend was wrong to list her status that way. Unless she’s legitimately engaged and planning a wedding, they aren’t getting married yet and may not ever follow through with it anyway.

      Is she the kind of person who would do that sort of thing for show? I understand the resentment over lack of marriage equality (believe me, I hate it too) but don’t resent your friend because she chooses to define her relationship that way. Unless she tells you, you don’t really know her reasons for it.

  5. I completely understand where the perspective of this piece comes from and agree with many portions of it. I don’t think they shouldn’t have the “In a civil union” or “in a domestic partnership” because those are what’s available right now. And it is really nice to be able to say in a civil union versus in a relationship especially when you got a civil union!

  6. I agree with you that it’s a whole ‘sepparate but equal’ crap thing, but also I’m thinking it’s not facebook’s fault that it’s unequal so it’s good that they’re embracing the current states of people’s relationships. And gay people can still select marriage or engaged if they want to, instead of civil parnership.

  7. Facebook would be better off changing so that you could be in a relationship with several people. AND be something other than man/woman.

    • I know! Every time I see the gender selection section it makes me a little sad. Instead of choosing a gender, I choose nothing.

    • THIS. There’s that “in an open relationship” one, but that only covers some polyamorous relationships! (And has on its own led to some terrible drama for one of my friends. But that’s a long story and not mine to tell.)

    • Also, the ability to check something like “other” in the “Interested in” section, instead of only Men and Women. Too exclusive for me, thanks.

  8. i have 2 feelings:

    1) I think some of the hesitation to embrace this comes from the fact that embracing facebook’s addition of these statuses feels like embracing the fact that these statuses are all we’re allowed to have.

    there are a LOT of straight people who hear the soundbytes on the teevee that civil unions are JUST like marriage but without the word “marriage” and therefore don’t understand what all the skerfuffle is about, why we’re not just ok with having a civil union and I feel like declaring ourselves civil unionized furthers that illusion — that this is a thing we are just as pleased with as they think we are.

    2) I feel like using the word “marriage” instead of “civil union” to describe our civil unions shows that this is how we want to see it, this is how we live and that we will call it what we want to call it regardless of the legal definitions of the words. And the fact that choosing “marriage” was the only option I felt in some way made it really obvious that we are being asked to mislabel ourselves and that’s like a central element of the injustice in the first place. This might sound weird — but sometimes when they reconcile things like this, it makes the whole fight appear less urgent. Like how Obama changed hospital visitation rules to include gay & lesbian partners and a lot of activists were like “as great as this is, it’s also effectively taking away one more point on our side for why we need marriage equality, it’s lessening the urgency of the debate.” does that make sense?

    BUT at the same time a bunch of people will see “married to” between two women or men and think that oh gay marriage must be legal where they are from. because truthfully not that many people are as informed about the laws as we are, and it’s easy to forget that.

    i feel like all my feelings on this are really theoretical and abstract and therefore hard to explain. just like gay relationships themselves!

    • I totally get what you mean. Also regarding the thing about giving us marriage-like rights while still denying us real marriage : while yeah it’s a bad thing because it lessens the urgency and allowing us to get married may (or may not) speeds mentality changes w/r/t the whole “gay people are just like everyone else” thing, I don’t think many gay couples gives a sh*t about it when they are/were denied the right to visit or take decisions for their partner in the hospital (to re-use your example). (That sentence was too looong, sorry) It’s a matter of balance between the abstract/large scale/long term versus the concrete/personal/short term, they’re conflicting but both need to be taken into account.
      And also I guess not many AS readers would fall into this category but the truth is that none of us volontarily signed to be political activists and potential martyrs for the cause, and some refuse to and have the absolute right to do so. I don’t buy the whole “the personal is political” BS. Bigots are making/want our personal lives to be political matters but they are not, they are our fucking personal lives and not political choices.

      Now regarding the article itself, I have to say I personnaly don’t care much because I don’t use and actually never used internet social networks (I know right, I’m sooo 1999!). I just think people gives way too much importance to Facebook and what it may or may not says about what’s going on in their lives outside of the internet.

  9. I agree but, of course, it’s not FB’s fault that we can’t get legally married. So, yesterday, my girlfriend asked me if we could change our relationship status and I said yes (so romantic). She changed it but I never got the “accept/not accept” thing and now neither of us are in a relationship anymore. FB – accepting and destroying domestic partnerships in a single day.

    • They changed where the request goes to! One of my friends listed me as her daughter but I didn’t get the notification to accept so had no idea until she said. It goes to the friend request bit at the top, I think!

  10. I am so glad you wrote this because I feel the same way. And when I say that people give me “well aren’t you demanding and ungrateful” looks.

  11. I’m confused. Are civil unions and domestic partnerships two distinct legal statuses? Because they sound the same to me. I have never been a fan of gay people casually calling their significant others “partners.” If she’s your girlfriend, just say that. I realize sometimes it’s more serious than dating, but I know straight people in very serious, very long-term live-in relationships and they usually still use boyfriend/girlfriend. Sometimes I have heard partners. I just think when gay people join civil unions, they should just use wife/husband. They should normalize and own it.

    • Girrrrl. This is exactly what I’m saying. Words are important and we should have the same ones as everyone else.

    • It depends on your jurisdiction, basically – some call them civil unions, some call them domestic partnerships.

  12. When I saw this, I thought, “Yay Facebook! Not so yay world.” I think it’s great that Facebook is recognizing all the different kinds of relationships that people are in, and that it’s good that now gay couples who are in civil unions/domestic partnerships can actually state as much on Facebook. However, that doesn’t change the fact that not allowing gay couples to get married is completely unfair. So congratulations to Facebook on recognizing reality, even if that reality is second-rate.

  13. Straight people get domestic partnerships and civil unions as well. I understand wanting full and equal marriage rights, I want them too and I will fight until we all have them. But I don’t see how facebook adding a “civil union” relationship status interrupts this. Facebook is not saying that you have to choose “domestic partnership” if you’re in one. You can still identify your partnership as a marriage if you want to. But it offers the option to anyone that IS in a domestic partnership or civil union to identify in that way. I think the frustration here is misplaced.

    • Tribyen – I’m not frustrated at Facebook. I think my frustration lies in the gay marriage battle itself, for example what you said here: “You can still identify your partnership as a marriage if you want to.” No. I can’t. Because marriage is not legal for us.

      I do agree with you here: “But it offers the option to anyone that IS in a domestic partnership or civil union to identify in that way.” I guess I am just under the (wrong?) assumption that the majority of people who are “Civil Unioned” would’ve gotten married instead had it been an option.

      I am just of the opinion that these words/relationship status’ should not be normalized because like Riese said – this makes the whole fight seem less urgent. Like we’re okay with these 2nd class categories.

  14. I had shared the link on facebook when I say the link from Huffington Post, and I really liked it, then I thought, You know, I take back the cool factor of that earlier link about how Facebook now has a “in a civil union” and “in a domestic partnership”…it shouldn’t have to be differentiated. It should be legal for ALL RELATIONSHIPS to qualify for “married to”. It should be LEGAL for those relationships. Love. Is. Love.

  15. It sounds like I’m alone here, but as someone who would have a legal marriage if I could, I actually like pointing out when a legal relationship is a civil union or a domestic partnership, rather than a marriage. I think it drives home the point that they aren’t equal. As in, I’ve had straight friends say, “well, you and are your partner are like married, anyway,” which they mean to be supportive but can come across the wrong way because they really aren’t the same thing. You can check off “marriage” on a form all you want, but if you’re not married, you’re not married (in the eyes of the law). So I think reminding people of our “separate but (un)equal” status is important.

  16. To me, marriage is more than a piece of paper that a government or religious body signs off on. It’s also a commitment that two (or, imo, more) people can enter into that has a certain social weight. Therefore, after March 3 my Facebook relationship status will say “married”. I’m not in a civil union or domestic partnership – the jurisdiction where I live doesn’t really recognize those either. (We do count as being in a “de-facto” relationship, which Facebook doesn’t have a category for anyway.)

  17. I think the “Relationship Status” field should go the way of the “Religion” and “Political Views” fields: free form text box. Let the users decide.

    • yes! i typed this earlier but then autostraddle was not loading for me for like an hour and then went to eat dinner and figured someone else was bound to have the same idea as me. sweet.

      the only reason that it probably isnt a text box is because leaving drop down makes it easy for facebook to farm user data statistics to corporations like evil bastards.

    • I have always thought so, too. I would love to put *epically in love with* or *passionately enraptured with* or *in sunshine lollipops and rainbows with*

      • oh, i yearn for the day i find a special girl to be “in sunshine lollipops and rainbows with”!

        *makes a note with the fancy pen so I can remember this and seem suave later*

  18. I’m just going to add nothing original by saying that, while I think the term “civil union” is ridiculous and sounds like a country where the citizens barely tolerate each other, and I want marriage equality, I’m sure some people are in a civil union/domestic partnership and would like to set that as their status. So the face that Facebook added it seems like a good thing, even though it reminds me that we still don’t have equal rights, what else is new.

  19. Is it really surprising that the large LGBT organizations are standing behind this as something truly amazing? Awesome job facebook, you have now given me the option to publicly display my inequality. I’m not going to debate whether or not this is wrong, I think that issue is simply a matter of personal preference. But in talking about why GLADD and HRC came out and said positive things about this, I think it’s important to keep in mind that organizations, while certainly in favor of marriage equality, are too scared to fight the real national battle.

    Take a look at Perry v. Schwarzenegger, the federal Prop 8 challenge. The lawyers are not on staff at ACLU, HRC or Lambda Legal because these organizations refused to take the case. Are they just willing to let the status quo remain? They claim that it takes time to figure these things out and that remaining patient and waiting for the right moment in a political climate is what matters. I’m sorry but that is just an awful way to live life. Grow a pair and buck up. What is the worst that could happen? We won’t win and the homos can’t get married. Isn’t that the case right now? We don’t have very much to lose. I’m not the only one who thinks this, obviously, as Chad Griffin founded American Foundation for Equal Rights and raised a few million dollars to pay Ted Olson and David Boies, two of the top litigation attorneys in the country. And just look at the results….they kicked major ass in the CA federal district court, they are likely going to win in appeals court, and I think if Mr. Swing Vote, Anthony Kennedy, is the man I would like to think he is, we will win in the Supreme Court as well.

    The point of this absurdly long comment rant is that big organizations are saying great things about facebook’s decision because they feel a need to celebrate the status quo for the small equality achievements they have made. I am all for the HRC, I’d even like to work for them as a lawyer someday, but only if they will commit to fighting the fight they claim to care about instead of standing around being timid and afraid.

  20. I feel like, straight people have civil unions to. I know a couple straight people that say they never want to get married, and they just want a civil union.. So I could see them wanting that just to explain their situation.

    Also I dont like marriage, and dont plan to get married.. ( I am in Canada and can legally get married to a girl)so its an option, which is great but I still don’t plan to, unless she reallyy wants to.

    I also agree with your feelings, if it were a strictly U.S. way to express relationships, I would take it as a gay thing, and feel offended that its noticeable that you guys still can’t get married yet.

  21. Alex – this was my exact reaction. It don’t like it at all. I just validates the use of this “civil union” / “domestic partnership” crap, which are total crutches in the gay marriage battle.

  22. While I understand you really have a lot of feelings about wanting access to this privileged government-given relationship category, there’s no need to delegitimize other forms of commitment as inherently “second-class.”

    If anything, there should be no difference to rights given to an individual and those given to a couple, whether they choose to participate in the institution of “marriage” or not. For purposes of dependency status and what not, _every_ union that someone feels important to designate as such should be considered a civil union, and this should be the only relationship of the government to people’s interpersonal commitments. If people want to go beyond that and join institutions like marriage, mazal tov, but they should be define this on their own terms or that of their communities.

    As for your claim that “Words are important and we should have the same ones as everyone else.”

    Allow me to respectfully disagree entirely. I don’t _want_ the same words as everyone else. If you want to personally assimilate into this terminology and institution, I think you should have every right to do this, but it frustrates me to no end when people speak of “we” as if this should the model for _all_ queer people. Plenty of people don’t see marriage as a desirable or legitimate institution and have no desire to replicate it in their own relationships.

  23. I agree – the terms civil union or domestic partnership imply a second class citizenship. However, I am one of the fortunate few who is legally married to my partner. In all honesty I am glad to have any kind of recognition of gay relationships.

  24. Civil Union to me is the ideal. There are a fair number of heterosexual people who have civil-unioned, and I don’t think that they considered it a lesser-status option.

    Since I’m not american I guess I don’t know what these legal rights you are missing out on are, the law here gives identical rights and obligations to civil-unions as marriage recieves so there is no difference in practice.

    Marriage is a religious institution anyway, I don’t give. It’s not like you can’t have your civil union service in a church, should your church be that way inclined.

  25. I honestly have to say I find it a bit ridiculous that facebook adding civil unions and domestic partnerships to its relationship status options has inspired so many people to whine about second class citizenship with the underlying implication that facebook has something to do with it.

    You guys. Facebook has not taken marriage away as an option for people who list themselves as interested in the same sex. That would be something to complain about. Instead, facebook has made it so that all options currently available irl are also available online AND they’ve done the real world one better. Every single facebook user can claim every single available option. Gays can still get married on facebook! I don’t see the additions as insult, rather I think in adding them facebook has offered a bit of a pointed commentary on current politics. I feel like this happening sort of highlights how ridiculous the current state of the world is. They should add “roommates” (scare quotes included) next. I think it would be funny.

  26. Am I the only one here wondering what the impact will be on all those little teenage girls “like omg i’m totally married to my girl bff!!”

    • sad to inform you but those little teenaged girls aren’t as little as many would think, many of my friends,i’m 19 and most my friends are with in a couple of years, identify as “married” and have “kids” and “siblings” when none are true, fb is not a good reliable source for relationship status. I know what is the world coming to!!!!! when we can’t trust fb anymore! People lying on Facebook!!!!! oh noooooo!!!!!!!!

  27. Last 2 paragraphs…
    Very good point!!!
    Althought I like the domestic part bekuz that is not only for gays.. it means common-law marrige..
    But it kinda sounds like ur in a beastiality relationshipb lolxx so that’s wat I didn’t like.. but the thing about civil is so true.. I rather put married than civil bekuz that’s wat lgbt are fighting for right

  28. I am in the camp that its BS, unless the category is the same as straight people than it has the feel of “separate but equal”.

    On the whole religious thing, I fall somewhere between an agnostic and atheist. The term marriage does carry a lot of religious baggage that I don’t like, but it also has a broader cultural connotation, so I guess I am ok being stuck with it.

  29. UM my facebook is in Spanish and do you know how they translated “civil union” into spanish…unión homosexual. Since when is it the case that all straight people want marriage and only homosexuals want a civil union?!?! Maybe I do not correctly understand “civil union” but is it not effectively a completely secular/legal form of marriage, applicable to hetero and homosexual couples alike? (If it’s not then I feel like an @$$ for how annoyed I am) I mean could it not be just as possible that two straight people decided not to blindly do what society tells them and get a civil union instead of a “marriage?” Or perhaps in a statement of solidarity/protest, will not marry until EVERYONE can marry? Ooooh I’m not pleased!!! I think I’m going to go check out what other languages say about “civil unions”

  30. I’m stoked for this and disappointed at the same time. I agree with a;ex that it emanates inequality; we should be able to just check “married”. Having the option of “domestic partnership” and “civil union” is a huge step toward equality, but nonetheless it still sets us apart from everyone else.

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