Without comment or fanfare, Governor Jerry Brown on Monday signed legislation that brings state law in line with court rulings that recognize marriage for same-sex couples. While both the California and U.S. Supreme Courts have affirmed the right for same-sex couples to marry, current state laws have not been revised to reflect these changes.
Senate Bill 1306, authored by Senator Mark Leno, makes those important updates.
“I am pleased Governor Brown has recognized the importance of this bill, which makes it explicitly clear in state law that every loving couple has the right to marry in California,” said Senator Leno, D-San Francisco. “This legislation removes outdated and biased language from state codes and recognizes all married spouses equally, regardless of their gender.”
On June 26 of last year, the U.S. Supreme Court let stand California’s prior ruling on the unconstitutionality of Proposition 8, which prohibited same-sex couples from marrying. With that decision, Prop. 8 was abandoned, and the 2008 California Supreme Court decision giving same-sex couples the right to marry was reinstated.
It was just over a year ago that the U.S. Supreme Court punted on the broader constitutional issue and simply argued that those defending the 2008 Constitutional Amendment in California lacked the authority to do so.
Chief Justice John Roberts wrote for the 5-4 majority in the Prop. 8 ruling.
He wrote, “Federal courts have authority under the Constitution to answer such questions only if necessary to do so in the course of deciding an actual ‘case’ or ‘controversy.’ As used in the Constitution, those words do not include every sort of dispute, but only those ‘historically viewed as capable of resolution through the judicial process.’ “
“This is an essential limit on our power,” he argued. “It ensures that we act as judges, and do not engage in policymaking properly left to elected representatives.”
A few days later, the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals would lift the stay on same-sex marriages. In a single line, “The stay in the above matter is dissolved effective immediately,” as the court effectively removed the remaining barriers to legal, same-sex marriages in California.
“I am thrilled that the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals lifted its stay to allow same-sex couples to legally marry in California,” said Attorney General Kamala Harris. “Gay and lesbian couples have waited so long for this day and for their fundamental right to marry. Finally, their loving relationships are as legitimate and legal as any other.”
SB 1306 updates state law as was directed by the 2008 In Re Marriage Cases decision from the state Supreme Court. It replaces references to “husband and wife” with gender-neutral language, such as “spouse,” in order to recognize all married couples.
According to the Legislative Digest, “An existing provision of the California Constitution, which has been held unenforceable, states that only marriage between a man and a woman is valid or recognized in this state. An existing statutory provision likewise provides that only marriage between a man and a woman is valid or recognized in this state.”
“This bill would repeal that statutory provision,” the digest notes.
The bill is co-sponsored by Attorney General Kamala D. Harris, Equality California (EQCA) and the National Center for Lesbian Rights (NCLR).
“While we have achieved many milestones in the journey towards full equality for LGBT people – including the freedom to marry for same-sex couples – it’s important that we completely erase discrimination from the books,” said Rick Zbur, executive director-elect of EQCA. “This new law will take us one step further in that journey. We applaud Senator Leno for authoring this important legislation and Gov. Brown for signing it.”
“We are grateful for Senator Leno’s legislation that will ensure the fair and equal treatment of all married couples in California,” said National Center for Lesbian Rights Executive Director Kate Kendell. “Although there is no question that same-sex couples can marry in California, the discriminatory language that remains on the statutory books creates confusion about the rights of same-sex couples. This law makes it clear to everyone that same-sex couples can marry and that all spouses have the exact same rights and responsibilities under the law, regardless of gender.”
Senator Leno’s marriage bill officially becomes law on January 1, 2015.
—David M. Greenwald reporting