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Today is Tuesday, November 27, 2007


California Bill Upgrades Gay Partner Rights

A group of gay California legislators and influential state leaders announced Tuesday they were introducing a bill to grant the state's more than 400,000 same-sex couples nearly all the rights, benefits and obligations available to heterosexual spouses under state law.

AB 205, known as the Domestic Partner Rights and Responsibilities Act of 2003, gives California's registered domestic partners decision-making authority for funeral arrangements, deposition of remains and community property and also provides death benefits for surviving partners of firefighters and police officers. The bill also brings new responsibilities to domestic partners, requiring couple to disclose conflicts of interest and making them more responsible for mutual debts. In addition, it requires joint assessment of income for domestic partners seeking governmental assistance.

California first passed a law establishing a state domestic partnership registry in 1999. In 2001 and 2002, bills were passed giving domestic partners specific benefits, including the right to sue for wrongful death and allow for second-parent adoptions.

A number of gay rights organizations, including the National Center for Lesbian Rights, the California Alliance for Pride and Education (CAPE) and Lambda Legal Defense and Education Fund, assisted lawmakers in putting together AB 205.

"The legal protections in this bill are not controversial individually, but their nonexistence spells tragedy for California families every day," said Jenny Pizer, Lambda Legal staff attorney. "No amount of private legal work can change the tax and community property laws, and most people who call us in distress can't afford private attorneys anyway. This law is simple and straightforward and will protect families."

"I think it's incredibly important to our state and community," openly gay state senator and AB 205 co-sponsor Sheila Kuehl told the Gay.Com/PlanetOut.com Network.

Although AB 205 adds some significant new benefits to strengthen California's current domestic partnership law, there would still be room for growth even if AB 205 passes without any changes. "Certainly domestic partnerships are not the same as civil unions," Kuehl noted. "All we've done is add a few benefits for our families. It doesn't cover all of the tax benefits (married) people get at all."

With a five-member GLBT caucus, large Democratic majorities in both the state Senate and the Legislature and a gay-friendly governor, California is expected to consider several other bills important to the GLBT community in 2003.

San Francisco's Mark Leno, who is a co-sponsor of AB 205, announced on Monday the introduction of AB 196, which would clarify existing laws to forbid housing and employment discrimination based on gender identity.

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