- The Washington Times - Wednesday, September 3, 2003

SACRAMENTO, Calif. (AP) — Same-sex partners would get many of the same rights as married couples under a bill sent to the governor’s desk yesterday that critics said amounted to gay “marriage.”

California already has a strong domestic-partners law, but homosexual rights advocates say the legislation approved by the Assembly yesterday, and expected to be signed by Gov. Gray Davis, would put the state on the same footing as Vermont.

The bill does not endorse civil-union ceremonies as Vermont has, but otherwise the legislation differs only in the state-specific rights it grants, said Geoffrey Kors, executive director of Equality Now, a statewide civil rights group.

The measure expands the rights of homosexual couples in areas ranging from health coverage to funeral arrangements.

“It’s an extremely historic day in a historic summer that we are beginning to call the summer of gay love in California,” Mr. Kors said of the bill.

The 41-32 Assembly vote was marked by heated debate. Opponents argued the legislation would violate the will of voters when they approved Proposition 22, a 2000 ballot measure that defined marriage as union between a man and a woman.

“Gay marriage is wrong. It is an aberration to God,” Republican Assemblyman Dennis Mountjoy said.

“May the wrath of the people of California come down on you,” Assemblyman Jay La Suer, also a Republican, told the measure’s supporters.

The bill’s backers denied any conflict with Proposition 22 and said most Californians draw a distinction between homosexual “marriage” and giving domestic partners greater rights.

“This is catching up government with where the people of California are,” said Assemblyman John Laird, a Democrat.

A recent Field Poll found that 72 percent of California voters surveyed supported expanded rights for same-sex couples.

The bill, scheduled to take effect in 2005, would allow domestic partners to seek child support and alimony and would give them the right to health coverage under a partner’s plan.

Other provisions would give domestic partners access to bereavement and family-care leave, and exemptions from estate and gift taxes. After a partner’s death, they would have the authority to consent to an autopsy, donate organs or make funeral arrangements.

The bill also would prevent courts from forcing a domestic partner to testify against the other partner in a trial.

The bill, by Assemblyman Jackie Goldberg, a Los Angeles Democrat, also would place greater legal responsibilities on domestic partners. For instance, they would be responsible for their partner’s debts.

In 1999 California became the first state to allow homosexual and lesbian couples, as well as elderly heterosexual couples, to register as domestic partners. Since then more than 22,000 couples have signed up with the secretary of state.

Two years ago the Legislature passed a measure giving domestic partners about a dozen rights, including the right to make medical decisions for incapacitated partners, to sue for a partner’s wrongful death and to adopt a partner’s child.

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