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California domestic partnerships

Activity 1999 to 2002

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The path that California has taken:

During the 1990s, among the U.S. states, Vermont and California granted the greatest number of rights and protections to same-sex couples and families. Laws in the two states have have evolved along different paths:

  • In Vermont, change was driven by the courts. The state Supreme Court found that Vermont's marriage laws conflicted with clauses in the state Constitution that guaranteed equal protection under the law for all citizens, and prohibited sexual discrimination in state laws. Specifically, the marriage laws' denial of the state benefits of marriage to committed same-sex couples was unconstitutional. They ordered the legislature to rectify this injustice. The lawmakers created a system of civil unions which paralleled the institution of marriage in many ways. Same-sex couples could obtain a license, go through a civil union ceremony, and obtain the same state benefits and obligations as married couples have always enjoyed. However, in excess of 1,000 federal benefits that married couples routinely receive are denied same-sex couples. Termination of the union is processed by the state divorce court.

  • In California, change was initially driven by the legislature. Recognition of, and protection for, same-sex couples has been more gradual:

    • A domestic partner registry was created in 1999 (AB 26). This initially had limited usefulness. It granted hospital visitation privileges. Partners of state employees received health benefits. However, the registry laid the foundation for additional benefits.

    • In 2001, about a dozen new rights were granted, "including the right to sue for wrongful death, to use employee sick leave to care for an ill partner or partner's child...", etc. 1 (AB 25 & SB 1049)

    • In 2002, a variety of laws dealt with wills, death benefits, and family leave for domestic partners were added. (AB 2216, AB 2777, SB 1575, SB 1661)

    • AB 205 became law and came into effect on 2005-JAN-01. It gives domestic partners almost all of the state's privileges and rights that are enjoyed only by married couples. They still receive none of the federal benefits that are automatically given to married spouses.

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Background - Cultural and legislation changes during 2001

There was a flood of gay-positive developments in the state of California during the fall of 2001:

  • 2001-OCT-15: Governor Davis signed five gay-positive bills into law:
    • AB 25: Domestic Partners: "extends numerous benefits of marriage to domestic partners and equates a spouse with a same-sex partner in certain instances." This was a restricted bill that moved California somewhat in the direction of the civil unions that have been available in Vermont since 2000-JUL-1. Details below.

    • SB 225: Hate crime policies would be extended to interscholastic sports at public (and some private) junior and senior high schools. This might exclude some Christian schools from engaging in competitive sports if they maintain their discriminatory policies against gay and lesbian students.

    • AB 79: This requires schools to adopt policies for the prevention of bullying and the promotion of conflict resolution. One of the main forms of harassment in school is the victimization of gays and lesbians by heterosexual students.

    • AB1475: Religious organizations, like Catholic hospitals, that are not directly engaged in religious activities would have to meet discrimination and harassment laws. Previous law allowed them special exemption to discriminate as they wish on the basis of gender, race, sexual orientation, etc.

    • SB 257: This law augments the safe school programs to include hate crimes. Again, one of the most common form of hate crime in educational institutions victimizes gays and lesbians.

  • 2001-NOV-5: The Salvation Army offered Domestic Partner Benefits: The Salvation Army's Western Corporation decided to extend health-care benefits to domestic partners of its employees. This would have brought them into compliance with a San Francisco ordinance that prohibits a company from doing business with the city if it discriminates against the homosexual and common-law heterosexual partners of its employees. Col. Phillip Needham, chief secretary of the Western Corporation said:

    "This decision reflects our concern for the health of our employees and those closest to them, and is made on the basis of strong ethical and moral reasoning that reflects the dramatic changes in family structure in recent years." 

    Some responses to their decision:
    • The gay-positive Human Rights Campaign called it a "prudent decision" and a "welcome development."
    • Fundamentalist Christian groups were unanimous in their opposition:
      • Dr. James Dobson, president of Focus on the Family, responded negatively. He expressed the belief that extending health care to the children of partners of employees adversely affects the long-term welfare of children. Dobson said:
        "Needham's statement reveals that the decision to accommodate homosexual employees is based on cultural considerations, rather than on what is right and ethical - and of course, on the impact of federal money. We are not talking about hatred for individuals; we are talking about policies that will affect generations to come. What is at stake here is an agenda that involves the welfare of children, the definition of marriage, the constitution of the family, and credentials for pastors and priests."

        Dr. James Dobson continued:
        "The Salvation Army is the first evangelical church, that I am aware of, to cave in on this contentious issue. This decision will have enormous influence on other Christian organizations and entities that have tried to hold the line on moral and family policies. The Salvation Army has (also) confirmed that this policy will apply, not only to the 13 Western states as the media has reported, but also to the entire organization."
        There seem to be a number of factual errors in this statement: The money issue is not over federal grants, but over municipal money. The policy did not affect all of The Salvation Army, but only the 13 Western states.
      • Ed Vitagliano, a spokesman for the American Family Association, said:
        "I think that all evangelical Christians who love God's Word and who have trusted The Salvation Army to be faithful to the clear indications ... and clear principles of God's Word about same-sex relationships [are] very, very sad that this has happened."

      • Scott Lively, spokesperson for the American Family Association of California, said:
        "This is driven by the gay-activist movement. It has no other purpose but to legitimize homosexuality in American society."
      • Karen Holgate, legislative director for the Capitol Resource Institute in Sacramento, CA, said:

        "Every time another Christian organization falls or bows to this kind of pressure, it just applies that much more to others."

      • Peter LaBarbera, associate director of the Culture and Family Institute in Washington, D.C. said:

        "Homosexual activists are keen on seeing everybody embrace homosexuality. If they see that a major Christian organization with a Bible-based mission is willing to swallow the gay agenda, then they will be more encouraged to go after every other Christian organization in this nation." 2,3

    In response to a massive outpouring of opposition, The Salvation Army reversed its decision. On NOV-12, they abandoned what they called their "concern for the health of our employees and those closest to them," and once more discriminated against their employees' unmarried partners and their children by withholding health benefits from them.

  • 2001-NOV-26: Oakland requires suppliers to grant domestic partner benefits: The Oakland City Council followed the lead of San Francisco and unanimously passed an ordinance that requires all suppliers doing more than $25,000 business with the city annually to grant domestic partner benefits to all employees -- married or not; same-sex or opposite-sex. 4


  1. Pete Winn & Kristie Rutherford, "Anti-Family Agenda Becomes Law in California," Focus on the Family, at: http://www.family.org/cforum/
  2. Fred Jackson and Jody Brown, "Salvation Army to Offer 'Domestic Partner' Benefits: Decision Hailed by Pro-Homosexual HRC, Condemned by Pro-Family Groups," Agape Press at: http://headlines.agapepress.org/archive/
  3. Stuart Shepard, "Dobson Laments Salvation Army's Decision," Focus on the Family, at: http://www.family.org/cforum/fnif/
  4. "Domestic partner plan to include contractors," San Francisco Chronicle, 2001-NOV-29, at: http://www.sfgate.com/cgi-bin/article.cgi?

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Copyright © 2001 to 2008 by Ontario Consultants on Religious Tolerance
Latest update: 2008-JUN-26
Author: B.A. Robinson

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