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The Difference Between Same-Sex Marriage and Domestic Partnership in California

In 2013, California domestic laws changed dramatically. After several state and federal rulings and a voter initiative known as Proposition 8 that was later held unconstitutional, same-sex marriages were finally made legal.

A Short History of Same-Sex Marriage Litigation

In 2008, the California Supreme Court ruled California’s state-wide ban on same-sex marriage was unconstitutional under equal protection laws. As a result, same-sex marriages were finally allowed between the months of June and November 2008.

In November 2008, California voters passed Proposition 8 to amend the state constitution to define a legal marriage as a union between one man and one woman. The same-sex couples that married during the six-month period before this vote remained legally married while litigation was pending.

In 2010, Proposition 8 was declared unconstitutional by a California judge under federal due process and equal protection clauses. His ruling was appealed to the United States Supreme Court where it was affirmed in 2013. As a result, same-sex marriages are now legal in California.

How does Domestic Partnership Differ From Same-Sex Marriage?

Before the final ruling in 2013, couples could apply for a legal domestic partnership to establish certain rights that were denied to unmarried couples. According to Section 297 of the California Family Code, 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.”

    Domestic partnerships can include both same-sex and heterosexual couples as long as they meet these requirements:
  • • Both members of the couple must file a “Declaration of Domestic Partnership”
  • • Both members share the same residence
  • • Neither member is married to another person or in a domestic partnership with someone else
  • • The members do not have a blood relationship that would violate the marriage laws
  • • Both members are at least 18 years old
  • • The couple is either same-sex or at least one of the partners is more than 62 years old (this age limit is no longer in place), and
  • • Both members consent to enter a domestic partnership.

Once a domestic partnership is registered in California, the couple enjoys similar rights as married people including the ability to make medical decisions for the other partner in an emergency, certain tax benefits, state spousal benefits such as inheritance rights, worker’s compensation benefits, and the ability to enforce domestic relations laws like divorce and spousal support actions.

The Future of Same-Sex Marriages and Domestic Partnerships

In 2015, the United States Supreme Court ruled that states cannot ban same-sex marriages nor refuse to recognize legal same-sex marriages from other states. Since then, same-sex marriage is now available across the nation and all states must grant same-sex couples the same rights and benefits as heterosexual couples.

California enacted its domestic partnership laws before the 2015 Supreme Court ruling to expand the legal rights of same-sex couples. Now that same-sex marriages are legal throughout the States, some might argue we don’t need domestic partnerships any longer since these relationships are now legal in all 50 states.

At this point, both options remain legally viable alternatives for same-sex couples in California and our state’s broad domestic partnerships laws grant nearly all state-level spousal rights to unmarried couples, both same-sex and heterosexual.

If You Have Questions About Your Rights

Attorneys Deirdre Kingsbury and Noreen Evans understand the legal intricacies involved in family relationships. If you have questions about same-sex couple rights or domestic partnerships, they have the answers. At Evans Kingsbury LLP we are family lawyers with decades of trial and negotiation experience. Call us today at (707) 596-6090 or fill out our easy contact form to discuss your case.

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