Bill AB-1967: "California Marriage
Bill AB 1967, the "California Marriage License Nondiscrimination Act," was accepted by a vote of 8 to 3 by the
California Assembly's Judiciary Committee on 2004-APR-20. This is the first time in the U.S. that a
committee of a state legislature has voted in favor of
marriage equality for same-sex couples on its own without having been ordered to
do so by a court. The nearest precedence occurred many decades
earlier when some state legislatures voted to allow
inter-racial couples to marry.
According to PlanetOut.com:
"AB 1967 has been endorsed by a
number of groups, including the ACLU, the American Federation of State,
County, and Municipal Employees, the California Teachers Association, Lambda
Legal, Eleanor Roosevelt Democratic Club of Orange County and a dozen local
chapters of PFLAG." 15
generally opposed by religious and social conservatives."
Steps leading up to Bill AB-1967:
On 2000-MAR-7, California voters passed Proposition 22, by a vote of 61.4% to 38.6%. 1 The Proposition
states that: "Only marriage between a man and a woman is valid or recognized in California." 2
The meaning of this sentence seems obvious at first. However, there is no consensus
on its precise interpretation:
Some gay and
lesbian-positive groups believe that it applies only
to marriages made outside the state.
Some observers, particularly those from fundamentalist Christian groups,
believe that it absolutely prohibits any sort of recognition of same-sex
relationships by the state. Further, it prohibits the legislature from
granting any benefits
to such couples and their children.
The majority opinion is that
the Proposition refers to all marriages in California, whether solemnized in
the state or elsewhere. However, it
would not prohibit the legislature from enacting civil union legislation
and/or granting specific state benefits normally restricted to opposite-sex
Propositions do not have the same status as constitutional amendments. They
only have the force of legislation. They can be subsequently modified or
overturned by laws generated by the state legislature.
Recognition of same-sex couples has evolved at a
rapid pace in California since that time:
2001-MAR-29: An amended Bill AB 1338 was introduced to extend about 400 benefits to
registered domestic partners. These are routinely granted to married couples. The bill was never passed.
2001-OCT-15:Bill AB-25 became law. It granted registered domestic partners only nine of
the 400 state benefits mentioned above. None of the 1,069 federal benefits were included.
2003-SEP-19:Bill AB-205 became law, but will not come into effect on 2005-JAN-1.
Registered domestic partners and their children will receive all of the 400 or so state benefits that are now
automatically given to married couples.
The next logical step was for same-sex couples and their supporters to seek the right to marry in the state.
Bill AB 1967; 2004-APR-20:
Assemblyman Mark Leno (D-San Francisco), who is gay, introduced Bill AB 1967 to the California Assembly's Judiciary Committee.
It is formally know as the "California Marriage License Nondiscrimination Act." Its shorter title is: "The
Gender-Neutral Marriage Act."
If it becomes law, the bill would change Section 300 of the California Marriage Code, substituting:
"Marriage is a personal relation arising out of a
civil contract between a man and a woman..."
"Marriage is a personal relation arising out of a civil
contract between two persons..."
"An unmarried male of the age of 18 years or older, and an unmarried female of the age of 18 years or older, not otherwise
disqualified, are capable of consenting to and consummating marriage."
"Two unmarried persons of the age of 18 years or older who are not otherwise disqualified, are capable of consenting to and consummating
"An unmarried "male or female under the age of 18 years is capable of consenting to and consummating marriage if...."
"An unmarried person under the age of 18 years is capable of consenting to and consummating marriage if..."
In addition, it would add a new section 300 (b): "Where necessary to
implement the rights and responsibilities of spouses under the law,
gender-specific terms shall be construed to be gender-neutral, except with
respect to Section 308.5." 3
These changes would require the state to issue
marriage licenses and register the marriages of all qualifying couples, both
those of the same-sex and opposite sex. Same-sex couples, and their
children, would then be able to marry, have their marriages registered by
the state, and
receive the full benefits previously restricted to opposite-sex married
A lesbian couple, Lancy Woo and Cristy Chung, the lead plaintiffs in
the San Francisco same-sex marriage lawsuit, testified in favor of the bill. They
have been together for 16 years and have a five year old daughter Olivia.
The National Center for Lesbian Rights (NCLR)
web site states that: "During her testimony, Cristy talked about the
discrimination faced by her parents because they were an interracial couple,
including opposition from family members and others who opposed their marriage.
'My parents' struggle and the struggle of Lancy and I to get married are not
that different,' Cristy noted. Cristy said she hoped that their daughter would
be able to grow up in a world where there are many families with same-sex
married parents." 4
Johnny Symons and William Rogers also testified in support of the
bill. They have been together for a decade and have two children, ages 2 and 4.
"Also testifying in support of the bill were Shannon Minter, 'NCLR's' Legal
Director, Geoffrey Kors, Executive Director of 'Equality California,' and Assemblymember Jackie Goldberg, the author of A.B. 205."
The committee vote:
The bill was passed by the Judiciary Committee by a vote of 8 to 3 on 2004-APR-20:
Those in favor: Ellen M. Corbett, Chair (D-18), Hannah-Beth Jackson
(D-35), Darrell Steinberg (D-9), John Longville (D-62), Sally J. Lieber
(D-22), John Laird (D-27), Lloyd Levine (D-40), Cindy Montaİez (D-39).
Those opposed: Tom Harman, Vice Chair (R-67), Todd Spitzer (R-71),
Patricia C. Bates (R-73). "5"
The vote strictly followed party lines with all Democratic
members of the committee voting in favor and all Republican members opposed.
The vote had been expected to be close. The testimony given at the hearing
may have influenced some Democrats to switch their vote. Some had previously
indicated that they were leaning towards voting against the bill.
Support for, and opposition to, the bill:
According to the National Association of Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and
Transgender Community Centers, AB 1967 has been endorsed by individual
Christian clergy from Disciples of Christ, Lutheran, Presbyterian,
United Methodist Church and the United Church of Christ denominations. It was
endorsed by the Board of Directors of the Northern California/Nevada
Conference of the United Church of Christ. "In addition, several
California cities and counties have either endorsed AB 1967, or supported
the concept of marriage equality for same sex couples. Those local
governments include; Los Angeles, Oakland, San Francisco, Santa Cruz, and
West Hollywood. Finally, it is worth noting that AB 1967 already has one
sponsor and 18 cosponsors. That is almost one quarter of the whole Assembly."
On the day before the vote, 40 clergy representing the California Council
of Churches and various ministers from congregations associated with the
Unitarian Universalist Association, Baptist groups, United Methodist Church, and
Metropolitan Community Church had a prayer breakfast at the Capitol. They later
lobbied lawmakers in support of Leno's bill. Geoffrey Kors, spokesperson for
Equality California, said: "Each and every religion should have the right
to determine for themselves what marriages they want to solemnize and the State,
in authorizing religious leaders to perform marriages, should recognize the
marriages performed by religious leaders regardless of the gender of the
individuals involved....When the State refuses to recognize the marriages
performed by leaders of certain faiths it is doing nothing less than condoning
discrimination against the couples and the religions who married them."
Focus on the Family, a fundamentalist Christian group, stated
that: "Pro-family analysts believe the legislation has a decent chance of
passing the Assembly and the Senate."
"9" (To Focus, a "pro-family analyst" is
one who is opposed to the recognition of -- and benefits for -- all families led by same-sex couples).
Geoffrey Kors, Executive Director of Equality California said: "This
is an incredible victory not only for Californiaİs lesbian and gay couples
and their children but for all people who believe in equal rights. The
Committee today voted to return California to the definition of marriage
that existed before 1977, when the legislature changed it from a contract
between 'two people' to a contract between 'a man and a woman.' That law is
the only remaining law in California enacted by this body that affirmatively
discriminates against a protected group of Californians."
Karen Holgate, spokesperson for the fundamentalist Christian
California Family Council, said the results of the vote were surprising
to many observers. She said: "It was quite obvious that the author of the
bill had worked very closely with several pro-homosexual groups. The room
was packed with same-sex couples...and only about 30 in opposition were
there because they did not have the notification that the other side did."
Ms Holgate also noted that Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger (R)
"10" had opposed same-sex
marriage during his candidacy. During 2004-MAR. on Jay Leno's "Tonight
Show," he said that he opposed a Federal Marriage Amendment to the U.S.
Constitution which would restrict marriage to one man and one woman. But he
indicated that he was open to amending California marriage law.
Randy Thomassaon, executive director of the Campaign for California
Families said: "AB 1967 utterly rejects the vote of the people. AB 1967
is corrupt and any legislator who votes for it is corrupt too... [It is] "is
illegal, unconstitutional and immoral." Later, he added: "It is strange
that the Democrats would risk losing seats in the Legislature over an issue that
is so unpopular. Assembly Speaker Fabian Nunez is to blame for giving permission
for his Democrat colleagues to push for homosexual 'marriage' and reject
everybody who believes that marriage is for a man and a woman. Does Nunez want
people to understand that voting for Democrats now means voting for homosexual
'marriage'?" " 11 He wrote a
guest column for the web site of Good News, etc., a fundamentalist
Christian newspaper. It said in part: "AB 1967 would completely destroy the
uniqueness of the sacred institution of marriage for a man and a woman. Leno
wants to create full-blown homosexual 'marriage,' impose it upon the entire
state, and completely overturn the vote of the people that demanded the law
protect the natural design of marriage for a man and a woman....Marriage
between a man and a woman is basic truth that is self-evident." 12"
Tony Perkins, president of the Family Research Council issued a
statement saying, in part: "Should this legislation reach his desk, it will give
the Governor the opportunity to show respect for the wishes of an overwhelming
majority of Californians who oppose tinkering with marriage. Just as the people
came together last year to put Gov. Schwarzenegger into office, they came
together in 2000 to protect marriage....If they make a right for any two adults
who love each other to 'marry,' they will have opened the door to polygamy,
inter-familial relationships, and a whole host of other arrangements of adults
who say they love each other. In light of their vote on Prop. 22, I don't think
that's the road Californians want to go down."
"Kate Kendell, Executive Director of the National
Center for Lesbian Rights (NCLR) said: "This is an historic day. This
vote demonstrates that our elected officials understand the unfairness of
denying an entire class of people hundreds of important rights and
responsibilities, and relegating them to second class status.""
Status of bill AB-1967:
The California Assembly's Appropriations Committee considered the
bill because it would have financial implications to the state budget.
Treating same-sex couples as equivalent to opposite-sex couples would extend
to the former benefits currently enjoyed on by the latter. Many of these
benefits involve a cost to the state. On May 12, 2004, the Committee placed
the bill in suspense, pending the committeeİs review of a UCLA study showing
that permitting same-sex couples to marry will save the state millions of
dollars annually. "14 On 2004-MAY-19, sponsors and supporters of the bill announced that they were pulling
the bill from committee consideration in the hopes of building support for
it later in 2004. A similar bill was introduced in 2005.
Other pending legislation:
Mark Worrall of the 365Gay.com Newscenter stated on 2004-APR-20 that:
"Two other pieces of LGBT civil rights legislation also will be heard
this week in Assembly policy committees. The Insurance Equality Act
by Assembly Member Christine Kehoe (D-San Diego) will make it clear that
registered domestic partners should be treated equally to married couples
under the law. Also, the Labor and Employment Omnibus Act by Assembly
Member John Laird (D-Santa Cruz) will standardize labor and employment
non-discrimination provisions to make them consistent with the Fair
Employment and Housing Act (FEHA)."
"NCLR Clients Testify in Favor of Historic Marriage Equality Bill;
California Assembly Judiciary Committee Votes 8-3 in Favor of Bill,"
"National Center for Lesbian Rights,
"Pete Winn, "Mixed News in West Coast Battle
for Traditional Marriage," 2004-APR-20, Citizen Link, at:
""California Couples Celebrate Historic Day
for Marriage Equality in Massachusetts and Hope California Courts and
Legislature Move Quickly To End Marriage Discrimination," National
Center for Lesbian Rights, 2004-APR-28, at: