01/11/2012 08:21 pm ET Updated Feb 02, 2016

Why Civil Unions Are Progress But Still a Cop-Out

As of New Year's Day, LGBT residents of Delaware and Hawaii can finally enter into civil unions. Sounds awfully romantic, huh? I have mixed feelings on the subject. So do lots of other LGBT people.

How would you like to be proposed to and enter in a civil union? How often do you see civil unions on wedding blogs? Do civil unions change the world?

And what on earth is a civil union, anyway?

This definition comes from the Gay Wedding Institute glossary:

A legal union of a same-sex couple, sanctioned by a civil authority. New Jersey, Illinois, Rhode Island, Delaware and Hawaii are the U.S. states with civil unions. They were legal in Vermont and Connecticut at a time, before both states approved legal gay marriage. Civil unions are not equal to marriage, though they provide some (but not all) rights of marriage. Civil unions are not sanctioned by the federal government and couples with civil unions receive no federal benefits.

In a nutshell, civil unions are progress for same-sex couples and families, but they are still a cop-out made by politicians too afraid of the phrase "gay marriage."

See, the thing is, many same-sex couples, while they see civil unions as progress, still "hold out" for legal marriage before planning a full, big-deal wedding because they don't see much meaning in a separate and unequal institution.

A perfect example of this happened in Rhode Island. Over the summer the Rhode Island legislature came close to passing same-sex marriage, like most of the other New England states, but ended up settling for civil unions. Then, during peak wedding season in New England, in a state with a town called Newport, only 39 same-sex couples chose to have civil unions -- in the entire state.

Why? Because, truly, there's not much that is sexy about civil unions. That's why Vermont and Connecticut eventually moved on to full marriage rights. Illinois may be doing the same. And it's why I've planned weddings for couples from New Jersey and Rhode Island in states where they can enter into a legal marriage, not just a civil union. And it's why many couples complete civil unions paperwork but are holding off for full marriage equality before planning the big wedding.

The U.K., Ireland, and a few other countries have something called civil partnerships, which actually are the equivalent of marriage, just with a different name. See, civil partnerships are federal laws, unlike civil unions in the U.S., which are state laws. Civil partnerships really are separate but equal, and they have been very successful abroad. Civil unions are just unequal.

Some people think that the U.S. federal government should just have civil unions for everyone, gay and straight alike, doing away entirely with the politically charged word "marriage." But that's just not going to happen.

Whatever the rights are called, progress is good, and we'll take it -- but it's going to be a lot more fun when we're all planning weddings.

To learn more about Bernadette Coveney Smith, visit her website, and follow her on Twitter @gaywedding.