What Does "In a Civil Union" Mean on Facebook?
By Aaron Charles
On Facebook a civil union is a relationship status. Outside of Facebook it's a legal union in certain U.S. states that generally bonds a same-sex couple in a relationship similar to marriage. Facebook began in February 2011 to list civil union as an option for setting your relationship status in your Facebook profile.
U.S. states define the term "civil union" differently, but generally it means that the local powers have recognized the relationship between two people as a legal union. In this union the couple gets many of the same rights as do married couples. Some states might refer to a "domestic partnership" -- also now a Facebook relationship status -- as a synonymous term for civil union. However, the organization Equality Maine lists a domestic partnership as a union similar to but not as comprehensive as a civil union. As of April 2013, the National Conference of State Legislatures records five states that offer civil unions: Hawaii, Colorado, Delaware, New Jersey and Rhode Island.
Facebook executives conceded to making "in a civil union" a Facebook relationship status after Facebook users and community groups such as the Gay and Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation (GLAAD) kept calling for the change. Before the change, gay and lesbian couples who use Facebook didn't have an accurate way to express their committed relationships on the social network, and some perceived that as a sort of discrimination, or at least a lack of support. Adding the "in a civil union" and "in a domestic partnership" relationship statuses was Facebook's response to help more people feel more welcome.
Before Facebook made the adjustment, gay couples' best way to describe their relationship -- at least in legal terms -- based on the Facebook platform at the time was to select "it's complicated" as their relationship status. This was, of course, if they lived in a state that didn't allow them to legally marry. Many from the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) community welcomed the change not just as way to make their Facebook profiles more personal and accurate, but also as a way to highlight what they view as relationship inequalities in federal and state legal systems, since many U.S. states prohibit gay couples from marrying.
The fact that Facebook was willing to consent to the requests of Facebook users and human-rights groups sets a precedent that could perhaps indicate future changes to the Facebook platform, as the result of user demand. Whatever the case, LGBT advocacy groups hope that social networks such as Facebook continue to highlight social issues, such as gay marriage, that affect the LGBT community. Another one of these issues is cyber-bullying, something that has affected the LGBT particularly hard. Gay rights and advocacy groups have viewed Facebook's relationship status change as a step in a positive direction in terms of increasing publicity for LGBT issues.
- New York Daily News: Gay Advocates Laud Facebook 'In a Civil Union,' 'In a Domestic Partnership' Status Options
- Equality Maine: Marriage, Civil Union, Domestic Partnerships: A Comparison
- National Conference of State Legislatures: Civil Unions And Domestic Partnership Statutes
- SFGate: Facebook Adds Civil Union to Its Choices for Relationship Status
- GLAAD: Amplify Your Voice
- Facebook: Newsroom: Key Facts
Aaron Charles began writing about "pragmatic art" in 2006 for an online arts journal based in Minneapolis, Minn. After working for telecom giant Comcast and traveling to Oregon, he's written business and technology articles for both online and print publications, including Salon.com and "The Portland Upside."