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California Same Sex Marriage and Domestic Partnership Laws

Current State of California Same-Sex Marriage Law

Same-sex marriage became legal in California after the U.S. Supreme Court affirmed a lower court's ruling in 2013. This issue appears to be settled in California, following several state and federal court rulings and a voter initiative that was later ruled unconstitutional. See California Marriage Law and Developments in Same-Sex Marriage Law for more information.

Original Court Ruling and Proposition 8

In June 2006, the California Supreme Court ruled that the ban on same-sex marriage was unconstitutional on the basis of equal protection in In re Marriage Cases. For the brief period from June 2008 until November 2008, California was allowing same-sex marriages.

In November 2008, California voters passed Proposition 8, an amendment to the California Constitution, by a slim margin. This amendment stated that marriage could only be between one man and one woman. The same-sex couples that did get married between June and November 2008 were allowed to maintain the validity of their marriages even after Proposition 8 was passed. Legal action with regards to same-sex marriage is ongoing with cases actively litigated in California and elsewhere.

Judge Walker's Federal Ruling

In 2010, Judge Vaughn Walker ruled that Proposition 8 was unconstitutional because it violated federal due process and equal protection clauses. In his opinion, he said, "The state does not have an interest in enforcing private moral or religious beliefs without and accompanying secular purpose." His decision was appealed to the U.S. Supreme Court.

Supreme Court Ruling: Hollingsworth v. Perry

With its 2013 decision that the appellants lacked standing to challenge Judge Walker's lower court ruling (Hollingsworth v. Perry), the U.S. Supreme Court affirmed the lower decision. This had the affect of legalizing same-sex marriage in California. Marriage certificates were issued to same-sex couples shortly after the ruling was announced.

Domestic Partnerships: Definition and Legal Requirements

Prior to the 2013 Supreme Court ruling, domestic partnerships offered way for same-sex couples to gain many of the rights that married couples enjoy. A domestic partnership is defined as "two adults who have chosen to share one another's lives in an intimate and committed relationship of mutual caring," which can include heterosexual couples as well. The requirements for a domestic partnership are as follows:

  • Both persons have filed a "Declaration of Domestic Partnership"
  • Both persons have a common residence
  • Neither person is married to someone else or in a domestic partnership with another person that has not been terminated or dissolved
  • The two people are not blood relatives in a way which would prevent them from being married to each other
  • Both people are at least 18 years of age
  • The two people are either of the same sex or at least one of them is over the age of 62
  • Both people have to consent to the domestic partnership

In California, a registered domestic partnership grants almost all of the same state-level rights as marriage. Examples of these rights include tax relief, the ability to make medical decisions in emergencies, access to domestic relations laws, state spousal benefits including workers compensation, inheritance rights and spousal testimonial privilege. See Same-Sex Marriage, Civil Unions, and Domestic Partnerships for a general comparison.

If you have a legal issue related to California same-sex marriage and domestic partnership laws, speak with a California family law attorney.

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