California Governor Signs One of Nations Most Comprehensive Domestic Partner Bills

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October 15, 2001

(LOS ANGELES, Monday, October 15, 2001) — Governor Gray Davis has signed a bill into law that will offer dramatic new protections for domestic partners in California, even while falling short of full equality for lesbian and gay couples, Lambda Legal Defense and Education Fund said.

Lambda assisted Assemblywoman Carole Migden in drafting her “Equal Protections for Domestic Partners and Their Families” bill to make California’s domestic partner protections one of the most extensive in the nation. Included in the law that takes effect January 1, 2002, are provisions giving registered domestic partners rights to:

  • adopt a partner’s child using the stepparent adoption process. This gives children of unmarried couples access to the protections of two legal parents throughout the State of California.

  • sue for wrongful death of a partner, as Diane Whipple was able to do only after winning a court ruling following the tragic dog-mauling death of her partner Sharon Smith.

  • make important medical decisions for a partner if she or he incapacitated.

  • use sick leave to care for a partner or a partner’s children.

  • be exempt from state income tax on a partner’s health benefits.

  • leave a job to relocate with a partner without losing unemployment benefits.

  • file for disability benefits on behalf of a seriously ill or incapacitated partner.

  • The law also makes it easier for private employers to provide domestic partner health insurance benefits to employees.

Said Lambda Senior Counsel Jon W. Davidson of Lambda’s Western Regional Office in Los Angeles, “The bill is extremely important and follows a strong national trend of recognizing that domestic partner benefits are common-sense provisions.” He added, “Still, this law falls far short of what we should have.” Davidson noted that the bill leaves hundreds of unsolved inequities under state law and over a thousand under federal law. For example, 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.

Lambda Executive Director Kevin M. Cathcart said, “This law will bring dramatic new security for domestic partners in California,” adding, “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.” Lambda Senior Staff Attorney Jennifer C. Pizer said that recent court victories upholding protections for domestic partners include two rulings by the United States Court of Appeals for the 9th Circuit in favor of San Francisco’s Equal Benefits Ordinance. Lambda assisted San Francisco in those cases, and has successfully defended domestic partner laws across the country. Today, more than 4,300 employers nationwide offer family benefits to employees with domestic partners.

Lambda is the oldest and largest legal organization dedicated to the civil rights of lesbians, gay men, and people with HIV and AIDS. Lambda has its headquarters in New York and regional offices in Los Angeles, Chicago, and Atlanta. Lambda will open an office in Dallas in 2002.

CONTACT: Peg Byron, Lambda 212-809-8585 x 230, 888-987-1984 (pager)
Jon W. Davidson, Lambda 323-937-2728, ext. 228


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