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16 Oct 2001

sweeping new laws for same-sex partners in california

Hailed the biggest expansion of domestic partner rights in the US, second only to Vermont, gay and lesbians partners in California will soon be accorded some of the protections of traditional marriage despite fierce opposition.

California Governor Gray Davis signed legislation on Sunday extending the legal power of the state's domestic partnership law. The bill will provide more than 16,000 registered gay, lesbian and domestic partners in the state about a dozen rights enjoyed by married couples, reports news agency Associated Press (AP).

The Golden Gate Bridge, San Francisco's best known symbol
Under the new laws, partners who register with the secretary of state's office can now make medical decisions for incapacitated partners, sue for wrongful death, adopt a partner's child, administer a partner's estate and will property to a partner. The bill, which goes into effect January 1, also allows an individual to relocate with a domestic partner without losing unemployment benefits and use sick leave to care for a family member.

While supporters hailed the Davis' decision the biggest expansion of domestic partner rights in the country, putting the state alongside Vermont and Hawaii for acceptance of same-sex couples, opponents have called it an assault on traditional marriage and family values.

"In one fell swoop, Gray Davis has cheapened every marriage in the state, undermined the vote of the people, pandered to the special interests, frivolously spent taxpayer money and broken his written promise to the citizens of California," said Randy Thomasson, director of the Campaign for California Families in an interview with AP. The non-profit conservative group even ran television and radio ads urging Davis to reject the bill.

Davis however defended his decision saying, "This bill is about responsibility, respect, and most of all about family - and it's about time."

Although Lambda Senior Counsel Jon W. Davidson of Lambda Legal Defense and Education Fund?s Western Regional Office in Los Angeles agrees that the bill is extremely important and ?follows a strong national trend of recognizing that domestic partner benefits are common-sense provisions,? he noted that the bill leaves hundreds of unsolved inequities under state law and over a thousand under federal law.

In a press release by Lambda, they highlighted that the bill does not provide domestic partners with inheritance or community property rights, or access to the family courts if a relationship breaks up. A civil union law, like what was passed in Vermont last year, is pending in the California legislature, and would provide these state rights. But even civil union will not grant the protections of marriage under federal law, such as social security or veteran benefits, immigration rights or income and estate tax recognition.

Lambada Executive Director Kevin M. Cathcart said, ?This law will bring dramatic new security for domestic partners in California.?

However, he added, ?As much as it is a measure of progress for lesbian and gay families, this measure also points to how far we have to go to have real equality.?

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