It’s time for Civil Unions, at the least

At this point in the budget stalemate, to talk about the budget standoff during recess is almost like watching maple syrup run in winter. Fortunately, at least one branch of government is alive and functioning. Tomorrow, August 17, 2007, is the deadline for filing written briefs to the California Supreme Court, which will then schedule oral arguments on same sex marriage rights in California sometime next year.
We asked Speak Out California Board Member and former Assemblymember, Jackie Goldberg, to update us on what this means for the gay and lesbian community. As a leader in the fight to advance the rights of same-sex couples, Jackie talks a little about the background of her landmark legislation, AB 205, and where the question of equality for gay and lesbian couples has taken us. Here’s what she has to say:

Several weeks ago, the California Supreme Court set keyboards a-clacking in the offices of attorneys representing gay and lesbian couples seeking the right to marry. The court, which is considering their challenge to laws barring these couples from marrying, asked for briefs addressing essentially this issue: Why are domestic-partner laws not enough?
When I was in the Assembly, I wrote AB 205 which says that “Registered domestic partners shall have the same rights, protections, qand benefits, and shall be subject to the same responsibilities, obligations, and duties…as are granted to and imposed upon spouses..”
My goal was simply to help families that had, for too long, gone without legal protections. But from its conception, I knew this was a flawed exercise. Since 1954, we have known that legally “separate but equal” is always “separate but unequal.” I told reporters that AB 205 was the best we could achieve at that time. I never imagined that domestic partnerships might somehow be used as an excuse not to allow same-sex couples to marry!
While I am proud of AB 205, as a long step on the even longer road to marriage equality, the fact is that it puts lesbian and gay couples in a distinct system that is both inferior and confusing. Without the universal, understandable and esteemed status of “marriage,” same-sex couple are not treated equally.
My bill, AB 205, has sometimes been called the “permanent employment act for attorneys.” While marriage and family case law has been firmly established over many years, domestic partnership litigation is just beginning. What does it mean to say that the same rights and responsibilities are granted as if they were “spouses?” When a domestic partnership dissolves, how should a court divide the pension one partner accumulated during years on the job? Will widowed partners be protected against property tax reassessment? Will partners be protected if their registration was defective, the same way spouse are if there was a mistake on their marriage license? These are just a few of the current issues being litigated. All of these matters are settled issues for married people.
We discover new problems all the time. Consider the ruling a few weeks ago ordering an Orange County man to continue paying alimony to his ex-wife, even though she is now in a registered domestic partnership with another woman. At this very moment, there are three more bills in the Legislature trying to fill in the gaps, and deal with ambiguities and inequalities, and that is not unusual.
It is time for the obvious solution: Give same-sex couples equal access to civil marriage. Massachusetts and five countries, including Canada and Spain have already done it. The ground has not cracked open beneath Madrid’s Plaza del Sol. Boston has not sunk into its historic harbor. Perhaps more to the point, the presence of married same-sex couples has been both joyous and normalizing in those places. And marriage continues as strongly, and more equitably than ever. And it will here in California too.
On Friday, August 17th, the California Supreme Court will recieve written arguments from both sides of the same-sex marriage lawsuit. It will then schedule a hearing for sometime next year. With its 1948 decision in Perez v. Sharp, the California Supreme Court was 19 years ahead of the U.S. Supreme Court, becoming the first state judiciary to recognize the unconstitutionality of a law against interracial marriage. This time, when the court rules, it will be too late to be first—but not too late to be just.