Academic journal article Family Relations

Registered Domestic Partnerships, Same-Sex Marriage, and the Pursuit of Equality in California

Academic journal article Family Relations

Registered Domestic Partnerships, Same-Sex Marriage, and the Pursuit of Equality in California

Article excerpt

Policies in California are examined to inform analysts of the process by which legal recognition of same-sex relationships may be achieved. Content analysis was conducted of relevant legislation, court cases, and voter initiatives, along with interviews with state legislators to gain an eyewitness understanding of the social climate surrounding the implementation of these policies. Legal recognition of same-sex unions occurs on an incremental basis and is embedded within a larger sociocultural context that includes shifts in public opinion concerning homosexuality and legal recognition of same-sex unions, issues of civil/human rights versus social control over morality, and the influence of legal developments occurring elsewhere. The most likely outcome of the debate over legal recognition of same-sex unions is a national domestic partnership or civil unions policy.

Key Words: family policy/law, gay/lesbian relationships, marriage.

Over the last 10 years, 10 countries (the Netherlands, Belgium, Canada, Spain, South Africa, Norway, Sweden, Portugal, Iceland, and Argentina) have legalized marriage for samesex couples (Goni, 2010). The United States, rather than allowing same-sex couples to marry, has chosen to reinforce the privileged status of heterosexuality by reserving legal marriage exclusively for different-sex couples through the implementation of the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA; Library of Congress, n.d.) in 1996. This Act defines legal marriage as the union of one man and one woman. As a result, same-sex couples do not receive at the federal level any of the benefits or protections of marriage, nor are they held to the same obligations that exist for the married. Furthermore, contrary to the full faith and credit clause in the U.S. Constitution (PhyOlsen, 2006), no other state is legally obligated to recognize the marriages of same-sex couples contracted elsewhere, although New York (in 2008), Maryland, and the District of Columbia (in 2010) do so, as does California if such marriages were contracted between June 16, 2008 and November 4, 2008 (Human Rights Campaign, n.d.; Relationship recognition in the U.S.).

At the state and local levels, however, various marital and nonmarital policies have been implemented that grant legal recognition to the unions of same-sex couples. The first form of legal recognition was domestic partnership policies, which have been implemented by seven states (California, Maine, New Jersey, Washington, Oregon, Nevada, and Wisconsin), the District of Columbia, and approximately 80 cities and counties throughout the United States (Human Rights Campaign, n.d.; City and county domestic partner registries; Relationship recognition in the U.S.). Domestic partners are typically defined as two financially interdependent adults who are not married to each other or to anyone else and who live together in an intimate relationship. In most areas, both same-sex and different-sex couples are eligible to become registered partners (in New Jersey, only different-sex couples are eligible, whereas in Oregon only same-sex couples are eligible). In California, Washington, Oregon, and Nevada, couples receive at the state level virtually all the benefits associated with legal marriage; in the other states and locales, only a handful of benefits typically accrue to licensed partnerships. With the exception of marriage in several states (see below), domestic partnerships are the only policy in the United States for which sexual orientation is not a precondition to participation.

A second form of legal recognition is civil unions, a legal option available only to same-sex couples and implemented by Vermont, Connecticut, New Jersey, and New Hampshire (Human Rights Campaign, n.d.; Civil unions). Couples wishing to participate in civil unions must meet all the eligibility requirements for legal marriage that exist in their state (with the exception of sexual orientation). Civil unions are the functional equivalent of marriage, in that couples who choose to sanctify their relationships through them secure virtually all the state-level benefits and protections associated with marriage and are held to the same obligations as are the legally married. …

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