Not Getting Married Today: In January, California Will Equal Vermont in States' Rights for Same-Sex Couples. but Some Gays and Lesbians Are Finding Advantages to Remaining Legally Single

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On New Year's Day, 2005, one of the country's most sweeping domestic-partnership laws will go into effect for California's same-sex couples. Signed into law by former governor Gray Davis, the California Domestic Partner Rights and Responsibilities Act of 2003 is a definite step toward equality, giving registered couples many of the state rights of married people--including property rights, parenting rights, burial and inheritance rights, and extended unpaid leave to care for a partner.

Yet so far more than 300 of the 28,000-plus stone-sex couples already registered as domestic partners have dissolved their partnerships because of the new law. Some are being stopped cold by the fact that California cannot provide any of the more than 1,100 federal protections that automatically come with civil marriage, including shared Social Security and veterans' benefits, coverage under federal employment benefits, and the ability to file joint federal tax returns. Some couples will actually hurt themselves Financially if they sign up for the new program.

San Fancisco residents Randy Cupp and Jeff Tarvin, together tour years, are passing on the opportunity. "There was a part of me that wanted to have equal rights and have pride and show ray love for Jeff, just to make it more official," says Cupp, 41. "But the more we looked into it, we realized it would help us a minor amount and would hurt us tremendously."

The couple, who are both HIV-positive, are worried they could lose state benefits such as Medi-Cal, a health care program, because of their combined income and assets, even though both are on disability. Without those benefits, Tarvin, 45, would not be able to afford his anti-HIV medications. "I just think people need to be really aware that it might look a lot better than it really is," Cupp says. In California the amount of state aid is partially determined by a married couple's income and assets.

Another San Francisco couple, Scott Williams and Scott Walton, are also avoiding becoming a registered couple. "You get pretty much all of the responsibilities of getting married but not all the fights," says Williams, a 36-year-old Web site editor. "There are federal rights that are associated with marriage that a domestic partnership isn't going to cover. Obviously, it's unequal." Instead, Williams and Walton, 45, drew up a legal package consisting of wills and powers of attorney, including medical powers.

Julia Weiner, a Chino resident who has been with her partner, Germaine Leger, for nearly three years, wonders whether the new law will have sufficient teeth in the courts, especially in regard to what the federal government will recognize. "This is just a piece of the cake; it doesn't give us the entire slice," says Weiner, a real estate investor.

While Weiner and Leger weigh the decision to register, San Francisco residents Jeanine K. Reisbig and Gale Golden were forced to dissolve their existing domestic partnership. Together 24 years, they want to preserve Golden's Supplemental Security Income benefits, which they fear losing if they're acknowledged as a couple. "I'm a little pissed," says Reisbig, who works as a wedding photographer. …