Gov. Newsom Signs Law Expanding Domestic Partnerships, Giving Heterosexual Couples an Alternative to Marriage

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Heterosexual couples now have an alternative to marriage in California.

Democratic Gov. Gavin Newsom signed a law on Tuesday that lets straight couples register as domestic partners.

California has recognized domestic partnerships since 2000. But the law only applied to same-sex couples who, at the time, were not allowed to get married. The law’s goal was to give same-sex couples the same legal protections as marriage.

In 2015, a U.S. Supreme Court ruling effectively legalized same-sex marriage nationwide. The ruling had no effect on the state’s domestic partnership law, giving same-sex couples the choice of getting married or filing as a domestic partnership.

Heterosexual couples — except for those older than 62 — still had just one option: marriage. That changed Tuesday, when Newsom signed a law authored by San Francisco Democratic state Sen. Scott Wiener.

“Couples should be able to protect their relationships under the law by registering as domestic partners, without being forced to marry,” Wiener said in a news release. “(This law) brings long overdue parity to same-sex and opposite-sex couples.”

After same-sex marriage became legal, some states either got rid of their nonmarital statuses or converted them to marriages. But Wiener’s office said some couples prefer domestic partnerships because they “are not associated with traditional gender-differentiated roles” and don’t have “the same historic and cultural connotations that some people may find undesirable.”

Other couples, Wiener said, might prefer domestic partnerships for financial reasons. California law treats domestic partners and married people the same for tax purposes. But federal law does not recognize domestic partners. That could let some couples avoid the federal “marriage penalty,” which is a higher tax resulting from when two people marry who have the same income.

Wiener’s bill passed the state Senate 30-4 and the state Assembly by a vote of 60-0. It had no registered opposition from outside groups.

When it took effect in 2000, California’s domestic partnership law guaranteed domestic partners had hospital visitation rights and allowed health benefits to domestic partners of state workers. That same year, voters overwhelmingly approved Proposition 22, which said California would only recognize marriage between a man and a woman. That proposition was later invalidated by the California Supreme Court.

Over the years, the state expanded its domestic partnership law several times, including in 2003 when the Legislature voted to make registered domestic partners have “the same rights, protections, and benefits” as married people.

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