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Same-sex marriage & domestic partnerships in California

Overview of activity: 2003 to 2012

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Activity during 2003: Domestic partnerships upgraded:

  • 2003: A new bill, AB 205, was narrowly passed by the California state Assembly by a vote of 41 to 32 on 2003-JUN-4. It considered on 2003-AUG-18 by the Senate Appropriations Committee, and later passed by the entire Senate. The bill was signed into law by California governor Gray Davis on 2003-SEP-19. it upgraded the existing domestic partnership legislation in California so that committed gay and lesbian couples now enjoy similar rights to "civil unionized" couples in Vermont. The law came into force at the beginning of 2005. Like the Vermont's legislation, this gave same-sex couples about one third of the rights of married couples, namely the approximately 400 rights, privileges and obligations that the state automatically grants to married couples. They would continue to be denied all of the approximately 1,069 federal benefits that married couples routinely receive.

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Activity during 2004: Abortive attempt to proide SSMs:

  • 2004: Just before Valentine's Day in 2004, the city of San Francisco started to issue marriage licenses to both opposite-sex and same-sex couples. Within days, thousands of gay, lesbian and bisexual couples had married. The courts halted the issuance of marriage licenses after four weeks. On AUG-12, the California Supreme Court forcibly divorced over 4,000 same-sex married couples against their will. The court ruled 7 to 0 on a narrow legal technicality, that the city had no legal authority to issue same-sex marriage licenses. They voted 5 to 2 to void all licenses that were issued.

In 2004-MAR, the City of San Francisco and twelve same-sex couples launched a lawsuit after the California Supreme Court halted the issuance of marriage licenses.

Bill AB 1967 was passed by the Judiciary Committee of the state Assembly on 2004-APR-20. It would have authorized same-sex marriages in California. On 2004-MAY-19, sponsors and supporters of the bill announced that they were pulling the bill from committee consideration

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Activity during 2005: Legislative attempts to legalize SSM died; petition for Proposition also failed:

  • 2005: Bill AB 19 died on 2005-JUN-02, after failing to obtain a majority. It failed by only three votes in the Assembly. It would have repealed Prop. 22 -- the proposition that defined marriage as between one man and one woman. AB 19 would have defined marriage as a union of two persons whether of the same or opposite sex.

On 2005-SEP-01 California made history when the state Senate became the first legislative body in the U.S. to pass legislation permitting same-sex marriage.

The nearest precedence occurred many decades earlier when the California state legislature was the first state in the nation redefine marriage on racial grounds. They overturnws the state miscegenation law which prevented inter-racial couples from marrying.

Governor Schwarzenegger vetoed the bill on SEP-29.

A petition drive to change the California Constitution failed. Supporters were not able to obtain the 598,000 signatures needed to place an amendment on the 2006 ballot to restrict marriage in the state to one man and one woman.

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Activity during 2007: Petitions to hold referendums to prevent SSMs fail. Governor vetos bill that would have legalized SSMs:

  • 2007: In early 2007-JUL, the California attorney general approved an official title and summary language for several California amendments to restrict marriage in the state to opposite-sex couples only. Ron Prentice, executive director of the California Family Council, a conservative Christian group, said:

    "An amendment to the California Constitution, which requires a vote of the people, is the only way to stop the politicians, and especially the courts, from redefining marriage against the will of the majority of Californians."

    Proposition 22 had been passed in the year 2000 by a majority of 61%. It restricted marriage to one man and one woman. However, it only has authority equal to a state law. Assemblyperson Mark Leno has re-introduced his same-sex marriage bill as Assembly Bill 43. It would legalize same-sex marriage and is expected to pass the legislature in 2007. Governor Schwarzenegger has promised to veto it. The constitutionality of Proposition 22 was being considered by the California Supreme Court.

    There are two initiatives being pursued to solidify the denial of equal rights for same-sex couples:

    • is proposing an amendment to the California constitution that defines marriage as between one man and one woman. It would read: "Only marriage between a man and a woman is valid or recognized in California." If passed by more than 50% of the voters, the proposed amendment would seem to have no impact on existing domestic partnerships which give all state marriage benefits to registered same-sex couples

    •, the official website for the California Constitutional Marriage Amendment, is proposing a different amendment. It would go further by denying any and all legal rights and benefits currently given to registered domestic partners. The proposed amendment is very broad, and attacks common law opposite-sex couples as well as same-sex couples. Their loving, committed relationships would be considered by the state as equal to two casual roommates:

    "Only marriage between one man and one woman is valid or recognized in California, whether contracted in this state or elsewhere. A man is an adult male human being who possesses at least one inherited Y chromosome, and a woman is an adult female human being who does not possess an inherited Y chromosome. Neither the Legislature nor any court, government institution, government agency, initiative statute, local government, or government official shall abolish the civil institution of marriage between one man and one woman, or decrease statutory rights, incidents, or employee benefits of marriage shared by one man and one woman, or require private entities to offer or provide rights, incidents, or benefits of marriage to unmarried individuals, or bestow statutory rights, incidents, or employee benefits of marriage on unmarried individuals. Any public act, record, or judicial proceeding, from within this state or another jurisdiction, that violates this section is void and unenforceable." (Emphasis ours)

  • 2007-JUL: Man ordered to pay ex-wife alimony: An apparent defect in the domestic partnership system surfaced in Orange County, CA. Ron Garber and his former wife divorced. His wife started to live with another woman and had taken that woman's last name. He agreed to pay her $1,250 a month in spousal support. But then he found out that she and her new spouse had registered their relationship as a domestic partnership. He figured that he was off the hook and stopped paying alimony. She sued and won. The judge said that a registered partnership is not a marriage, so he had to continue financially supporting his ex-spouse. He is appealing the case.

    San Francisco chief deputy city attorney Therese Stewart said that the alimony ruling and other gaps in the domestic partnership law "... highlight the irrationality of having a separate, unequal scheme" for same-sex partners. 1

    The California Supreme Court is currently considering whether to legalize same-sex marriage in the state. Lawyers who favor same-sex marriage are expected to cite this case before the Supreme Court.

  • 2007-SEP-10: Senate approves bill legalizing same-sex marriage: The California Senate approved bill AB-43 by a vote of 22 to 15 to substitute the term "two persons" for "man and wife" in the state's marriage law. This would allow all loving committed couples to marry, whether they are of the opposite-sex or same-sex. All 12 Republicans and three Democrats voted against the bill. The bill went to Governor Schwarzenegger for either his signature or his veto.

    Former Assemblyman Larry Bowler who supports the Constitutional amendment proposed by told Christian News Service:

"Until the people fund, qualify and pass the amendment, marriage will be threatened with destruction and eventual extinction. Even Governor Schwarzenegger and Attorney General Brown have said that the Legislature has the power to abolish marriage and yank marriage rights from husbands and wives." 2

  • 2007-SEP-29: Governor vetos AB-43: As expected, Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger (R) vetoed bill AB-43 which would have implemented marriage equality to California. He said:

"I am proud California is a leader in recognizing and respecting domestic partnerships and the equal rights of domestic partners. I support current domestic partnership rights and will continue to vigorously defend and enforce these rights and as such will not support any rollback."

Assemblyman Mark Leno, (D-San Francisco), the author of the bill, said:

"The governor has failed his test of leadership and missed a historic opportunity to stand up for the basic civil rights of all Californians. He cannot claim to support fair and equal treatment for same-sex couples and veto the very bill that would have provided it to them." 3

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Activity during 2008: California supreme court declared SSM legal in May. Voters pass Prop. 8 to ban SSM in November:

  • 2008-FEB-07: California Supreme Court sets date for hearing: During 2005, The City of San Francisco, Equality California, and several same-sex couples initiated lawsuits challenging the state's refusal to allow them to marry. In 2005-MAR, San Francisco Superior Court judge Richard Kramer ruled that laws preventing same-sex marriage were unconstitutional. The appellate court overturned this ruling in 2006-OCT. The lawsuit was then appealed to the state Supreme Court.

    The six cases were consolidated into one lawsuit and heard by the California Supreme Court on 2008-MAR-04. 4 More information about the case.

  • 2008-MAY-14: California Supreme Court declared Proposition 22 unconstitutional: The court determined by a 4:3 vote that same-sex marriages were legal in California. They also found that Prop. 22 was unconstitutional because it violated two clauses of the state Constitution: One guaranteed equal protection to everyone in the state; the other recognized marriage as a fundamental human right. Same-sex couples were able to marry as of 2008-JUN-17. 5 More information about the ruling.

  • The proposal to amend the California Constitution promoted by did not receive sufficient signatures to proceed. Proposition 8, the other proposal by did obtain sufficient signatures and was approved by the Secretary of State to appear on the 2008-NOV ballot.

  • The ACLU and a group of three gay-positive organizations have challenged the proposal to amend the constitution. They assert that, if passed by the voters, it would generate a major change to the Constitution; it would be a revision not an amendment. Revisions to the Constitution require both voters' and legislative approval. More information.

  • On election day in 2008-NOV, Proposition 8 was narrowly passed by the voters with a margin of 3%. Tens of millions of dollars were invested by religious groups -- mainly The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and the Roman Catholic Church -- to produce this result. This terminated the right of unmarried, loving, committed same-sex couples to marry. However, same-sex couples who were alread married before that date remain married.
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Activity during subsequent years 2009 to the present time:

  • The fight to restore same-sex marriage was pursued along two paths:

    • A new Proposition for the 2012 ballot that would repeal Proposition 8 was proposed by a group called "Love Honor Cherish". However, on 2012-FEB-14, they abandoned their effort, citing success in the court battle to have Prop. 8 declared unconstitutional, and a lack of funds. They would have had to collect 807,615 signatures by mid 2012-APR in order to place the Proposition on the 2012-NOV ballot. 6

    • A court battle to restore SSM to California that was successfully launched in Federal District Court. The appeal before a three-judge panel of the U.S. 9th Circuit Court of Appeals was also successful. The larger court of appeals refused to review the panel's decision. It is expected to be headed to the U.S. Supreme Court. More details.

  • Popular support for SSM swings in a positive direction: 51% favor SSM; 45% oppose by mid-2010. 7 It reached 59% support and 34% opposition by 2012-FEB. More details.
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References used:

The following information sources were used to prepare and update the above essay. The hyperlinks are not necessarily still active today.

  1. Man ordered to pay ex-wife alimony, despite domestic partnership," Associated Press, 2007-JUL-22, at:
  2. Hilary White, "California Senate Votes to Impose Same-Sex 'Marriage' on State," Life Site News, 2007-SEP-11.
  3. Lynda Gledhill, "Schwarzenegger vetoes gay marriage bill as promised,", 2007-SEP-29, at:
  4. "Court sets hearing date for marriage case. Justices will have 90 days after hearing arguments to issue ruling," Dallas Voice, 2008-FEB-07, at:
  5. Text of the Supreme Court's ruling S147999, Supreme Court of California, 2008-JUN-15, at: This is a PDF file.
  6. Jacob Combs, "Love Honor Cherish cancels Prop 8 ballot repeal initiative," Prop8Tracker, 2012-FEB-14, at:
  7. "Religion, Proposition 8, and Same-Sex Marriage in California," Public Religion Research Institute, 2010-JUL-21, at:
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Copyright 2003 to 2010 by Ontario Consultants on Religious Tolerance
Latest update: 2010-JUL-30
Author: B.A. Robinson

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