With legislation currently making its way through the state legislature, California could soon become the second state in the nation to grant formal recognition to gay and lesbian couples’ partnerships – Vermont is currently the only state to do so. The California state Assembly recently passed a measure to designate gay and lesbian couples as domestic partners and give them some of the benefits that traditional married couples receive – including joint filing for state income taxes, health-insurance benefits, and bereavement leave. The bill, known as AB205, was authored by Assemblywoman Jackie Goldberg (D-LA), who is a member of the five-person gay-and-lesbian caucus of the California state Assembly – the only caucus of its kind in the country.
If the bill is passed by the state Senate and signed by Gov. Gray Davis, it would be a much-needed victory for same-sex couples in California. Although the legislation would only give domestic partners a fraction of the more than 1,000 benefits that traditional couples receive, these benefits could significantly improve their lives.
Under current law, when a couple has a child, only one partner can be the legal guardian. If that partner dies or leaves the relationship, the remaining partner is left with no legal means to retain custody of his or her child. The law would also permit partners to file state income taxes jointly, although they would still have to file separately for federal income taxes because their union would not be recognized outside the state.
Opponents claim that the measure will conflict with Proposition 22, which denies same-sex couples the right to marry. State Senator Pete Knight (R-Palmdale) drafted Proposition 22 in 1999, which was approved by voters in 2000 by 61 percent.
However, AB205 is not a marriage bill, and although Proposition 22 denies marriage to gay and lesbian couples, it does not mention domestic partnerships. Many people favor the passage of AB205 because it would help ease California’s budget crisis. The bill, if enacted, could save the state $8.1 to 10.6 million each year in decreased state expenditures on public benefits and increased tourism, according to the Los Angeles Daily Journal.