Thursday, September 10, 2009

California Senate Approves Law Clarifying Rights of Same-Sex Couples Married Outside of California

The California Senate passed Wednesday the Marriage Recognition and Family Protection Act, SB 54, in a 23-14 vote. The bill, introduced by Senator Mark Leno (D-San Francisco) and sponsored by Equality California (EQCA), underscores that same-sex couples married before the passage of Proposition 8 are entitled to full recognition as married spouses in California, regardless of whether they married in California or out of state. That rule is consistent with existing law, including the California Supreme Court's prior holding in In re Marriage Cases that California cannot treat marriages differently based on whether they were performed in state or out of state.

The bill also confirms that same-sex couples married outside of California after November 5, 2008, must be given all of the rights, protections and responsibilities of spouses under California law, with the sole exception of the designation of "marriage."

"We are grateful that our elected leaders have passed this vital bill, which provides much needed clarity for same-sex couples married out of state who deserve to know where their families stand," said Geoff Kors, Executive Director for Equality California. "Ultimately, however, restoring the freedom to marry is the only way to ensure that all Californians are treated with true equality under the law."

Although Proposition 8 prevents California from designating same-sex couples who marry in another jurisdiction on or after Nov. 5, 2008, as "married," the Court's decision in Strauss v. Horton requires the state to give those couples all of the substantive protections of marriage.

"When California offered marriage licenses to same-sex couples in 2008, spouses who were already married in another state or country were prohibited from re-marrying in California," said Senator Leno. "Now those couples and their families are in limbo because their rights and protections under law are not clear. This legislation ensures that same-sex couples are protected by existing California law that recognizes all marriages equally, regardless of where they are performed."

The conservative California Family council also responded. "The California Legislature’s majority continues its disregard for the expressed will of their constituents and the state Constitution which affirms traditional marriage’s definition. Article I, Section 7.5 of the California Constitution specifically states “Only marriage between a man and a woman is valid or recognized in California.” SB 54 explicitly violates California’s Constitution."

“The Legislature’s approval of SB 54 demonstrates the Legislature’s contempt and lack of respect for their constituents,” stated Everett Rice CFC’s Legislative Coordinator. “In 2000 and 2008, the voters expressed their desire to protect traditional marriage at the ballot box. They emphatically affirmed that marriage should retain its historical definition and identity. Nonetheless, our elected representatives choose to yield to the demands of special-interest groups over the values of those who elected them.”

SB 54, having already passed the California Assembly, will now proceed to the Governor's desk.

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