California Continues to Muddy Same-Sex Marriage Laws

While across the country, people marked National Coming Out Day, and the LGBT community gathered in a show of strength in Washington, DC, at the National Equality March, in California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger quietly signed a bill adding new rights for gay and lesbian couples in the state.

However, the new rights only serve to add layers of complexity to the state’s already tiered marriage equality situation.

Schwarzenegger signed the bill, SB-54 by Senator Mark Leno (D), on Sunday, his office said. Leno’s bill requires California to recognize marriages performed in other states where same-sex marriages are legal, during the period that same-sex marriage was legal in California.

Out of state marriages that occurred outside that window of time will be recognized with the same benefits as married couples, although they will not be referred to as “married” in the state’s language.

The new laws represent a small step forward for marriage equality in a state that suffered a terrific civil rights blow last year with the narrow passage of Proposition 8, a voter-driver initiative that overturned the State Supreme Court decision legalizing same-sex marriage that occurred earlier that year.

Marriages performed in California during the months when same-sex marriage was legal are still recognized as legal marriages under a State Supreme Court decision that followed the election.

I’ll try to clarify this. In California, if you are in a same-sex legally committed relationship you are one of the following:

(1) Legally married and called “married” if your ceremony occurred between June 16 and Nov. 5, 2008

(2) In a domestic partnership or civil union, prevented by law from being called a marriage, and with some similar – but not equal – benefits to marriage, if your ceremony occurred outside of that time period in California.

(3) Legally married and called “married,” if your ceremony occurred between June 16 and Nov. 5, 2008 in another state that recognized same-sex marriage during the same time period.

(4), In a domestic partnership or civil union, with all of the legal rights and benefits of marriage in California (the word “married” cannot be legally used), if your marriage occurred in state that recognizes same-sex marriage outside of the window between between June 16 and Nov. 5, 2008.

Got that?

(I’d like to think a lotus is going to grow out of this muddy mess eventually.)

“Following the passage of Proposition 8, there has been some uncertainty as to how California should treat same-sex couples that married out-of-state while same-sex marriage was legal in California,” the governor wrote in a letter following the signing. “Consistent with the California Supreme Court’s decision that upheld the validity of those in-state marriages entered into prior to the passage of Proposition 8, Senate Bill 54 clarifies that California must also recognize as married couples that legally married in another state during the same period of time in which same-sex marriage was legal in California,” he continued.

In short, the bill requires the state to recognize any same-sex marriage performed in another state while same-sex marriage was also legal in California. Further, it requires the state to recognize same-sex couples married in other states even though same-sex marriages remain illegal in California. While they will not be recognized as “married,” those couples will receive the same benefits as married couples.

“Senate Bill 54 also requires that California recognize the union of couples that marry in states where same-sex marriage is legal. As required by Proposition 8, California will not recognize such couples as “married.” However, Senate Bill 54 will provide the same legal protections that would otherwise be available to couples that enter into civil unions or domestic partnerships out-of-state,” Schwarzenegger explained. “In short, this measure honors the will of the People in enacting Proposition 8 while providing important protections to those unions legally entered into in other states,” he concluded.

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