Friday, July 3, 2009

Senator Leno Announces Bill Clarifying Rights of Same-Sex Couples Married Outside of California

In a press release Thursday, Senator Mark Leno announced he will be authoring legislation to clarify state law regarding same-sex couples who have already married or plan to marry outside of California, prompted by ambiguities about how out-of-state same-sex marriages will be recognized in California following the passage of Proposition 8 and the California Supreme Court decision upholding it.

Senator Leno’s Senate Bill 54, sponsored by Equality California, has been amended to clarify that same-sex couples who married outside of California before Proposition 8 went into effect on November 5, 2008 are recognized as married spouses. The bill also confirms that same-sex couples who married outside California after November 5, 2008, or plan to do so in the future, must receive the same rights, protections, benefits, obligations and responsibilities afforded to opposite-sex spouses, with the sole exception of the designation of “marriage.”

Senate Bill 54 - Regarding Same-Sex Couples Married Outside CA

“Proposition 8 not only creates a separate and unequal category for one minority group of Californians, but also creates confusion for same-sex couples who married outside of California,” said Senator Leno. “Since we cannot remedy this confusion by restoring full marriage equality for all Californians, we are forced to clarify the rights and protections afforded to these couples and their families in state law. As defined by the Court, Proposition 8 only denies same-sex couples the official designation of the term “marriage.”

While Prop 8 prevents California from using the “marriage” designation for same-sex couples who marry after November 5, 2008, the Supreme Court’s May 26 decision, as explained in the Court’s press release, “leaves undisturbed all of the other aspects of a same-sex couple’s constitutional right to establish an officially recognized and protected family relationship and to the equal protection of the laws.”

The Court’s decision states that California must recognize the marriages of couples who married in California before the passage of Prop 8 but does not specify how couples who married outside of the state should be recognized. Nevertheless, existing family and constitutional law, including the Supreme Court’s 2008 decision that upheld the right to marry for all couples, affirms that the state would violate the federal privileges and immunities clause if it were to treat marriages differently based on where they are performed. SB 54 makes that clear in state law.

SB 54 is co-authored by the members of the LGBT Legislative Caucus, including Senator Christine Kehoe and Assemblymembers Tom Ammiano and John A. Pérez. The bill will be heard in the Assembly Judiciary Committee in the coming weeks.

Image by Steve Rhodes.

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