|The California Legislature is
edging its way toward the adoption of two bills which would give
all unmarried couples -- regardless of sexual orientation --
options as to the legal status afforded to their relationship.
Under current law, same-sex couples
can choose to remain in an unmarried status or to enter into a
registered domestic partnership. But they do not have the
option to marry.
Opposite-sex couples have the
option of remaining unmarried or they may legally marry.
If one of the partners is over 62 years old, then the couple
also has the option of registering as domestic partners.
State law does not allow opposite-sex couples under 62 to
register as domestic partners with the Secretary of State.
Last month, the California
Assembly approved AB 43, by Assemblyman Mark Leno, to remove the
current requirement that marriage partners be of the
opposite sex. An identical measure was approved by the
Legislature in 2005, only to be vetoed by Gov. Arnold
If California were to pass a bill
legalizing same-sex marriage, it would be only the second state
where gay couples can legally wed. Massachusetts removed
the gender restriction from its marriage laws due to an order from the state supreme court.
A few days ago, the California
Senate passed SB 11, by Senator Carole Migden, to remove the age
requirement from the domestic partner registration system.
The bill would allow all couples of any adult age to become
Although several states have
adopted various forms of civil union or domestic partnership as
an alternative to marriage, all but one limit their registration
systems to same-sex couples. So far, Maine is the only
state which allows all adult couples, regardless of gender, to
register as domestic partners.
Maine's law is rather limited,
however, in terms of benefits which are associated with domestic
partnership registration. Partners can inherit without a
will and can make medical and burial decisions in the same
manner as a legal spouse.
Last week, the Legislature in
Maine expanded the list of benefits by extending family leave to
workers who need time off to care for a domestic partner.
Gov. John Baldacci has said he will sign it.
bills to expand eligibility for marriage and domestic
partnership continue to wind their way through the California
"It seems to
me entirely fair that this Legislature respond to the emerging
new definition of marriage and family," Migden, one of
California's first openly lesbian lawmakers, told her colleagues
during debate on her domestic partnership expansion bill.
SB 11 passed
the Senate on June 4 by a 22-13 vote, largely along party lines,
with Democrats supporting the measure and Republicans opposing
interesting that no Republican senator spoke against the bill
during the floor session.
contrast, the floor debate on Leno's marriage bill was not so
one-sided in the Assembly.
For about 90
of the Assembly voiced their support and opposition to AB 43.
When the dust settled, it passed by a vote of 42-34.
several Republicans spoke passionately against the bill, they
did so less harshly than in 2005 when a similar bill was adopted
by the Legislature.
of the bill's critics was
Assemblyman Anthony Adams who told
his colleagues that he could not stand by and watch the Assembly
"institutionalize" gay marriage.
"As a Christian, I do believe
that the act of homosexuality is immoral," Adams said. "I think
that it is inappropriate to suggest that it is anything other
than a choice."
It appears that the domestic
partner bill and the gay marriage bill will both be adopted by
the full Legislature and find their way to the governor's desk.
Although Schwarzenegger has
previously threatened to veto any gay marriage bill that is
placed before him, he has not taken a position yet on the option
of domestic partnership for young and middle-aged heterosexual
Whether he will sign one or both
of these bills this year is still an open question. Even
if not this year, it is almost inevitable that sooner or later
California will respect the marital and familial choices of its
And as Americans have seen time
and time again -- as California goes, so goes the nation.
Unmarried America 2007
Thomas F. Coleman, Executive Director of Unmarried America, is an
attorney with 33 years of experience in singles' rights, family
diversity, domestic partner benefits, and marital status discrimination.
Each week he adds a new commentary to Column One: Eye on Unmarried
email@example.com. Unmarried America is a nonprofit
information service for unmarried employees, consumers, taxpayers, and