If a couple is unmarried, each person must do a lot of additional paperwork―from writing a will to drafting powers of attorney for health care―to have the same rights as a married person. And there are some rights that married people are entitled to, such as the right to government benefits through their spouse, that unmarried couples cannot receive, no matter how long they have been together.
Some state and local governments allow persons of the same sex (and in some jurisdictions, persons of different sex) to register as domestic partners. The benefits and rights that arise from a domestic partnership vary from jurisdiction to jurisdiction. Common rights include eligibility for family health insurance, sick-leave to care for a family member or partner, bereavement leave, rights to visit a partner in the hospital, and the right to make health care decisions for an incapacitated partner. In Vermont, a law enabling same sex couples to enter into civil unions extends to lesbian and gay couples the effect of every Vermont law, regulation, and court precedent in the state that applies to married couples.