When a large amount of heterosexual couples began to establish committed, co-habitating relationships without marriage, governments recognized the need for de facto, or 'common-law', spousal rights by passing laws providing property, custody and dependent rights to de facto partners. Similar arrangements have been made in various areas as a way of legally recognizing the committed relationships of gay couples, in a mix between de facto partnerships and marriage called a civil union.
There have been arguments in the gay marriage debate about gay civil unions from both supporters of gay marriage and anti-gay marriage groups. Supporters of gay marriage argue that civil unions cannot replace the right to marry and are a way of segregating gay couples. This argument is based on the fact that heterosexual couples can access two legal avenues to register their commitment: marriage, which requires a ceremony and a signed legal document, or de facto partnership, which requires no contract at the time and only basic proof at dissolution if there are any property disputes. Gay couples can only access civil unions, a separate entity.
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