California's recall-challenged governor, Gray Davis, will sign the state's sweeping new domestic-partnership bill at a special ceremony scheduled for 6 p.m. Friday at the San Francisco Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender Community Center. The bill will provide gay and lesbian couples most of the state-level rights and protections of married couples, bringing the state closely in line with Vermont. "We're thrilled the bill's going to be signed," said Geoffrey Kors, executive director for Equality California, a gay rights group that endorsed the legislation. "It's an incredibly historic event for our community. California is the only state that recognizes same-sex couples through the will of the people, not a court order [like Vermont]."
The legislation, authored by out lesbian assemblywoman Jackie Goldberg, will not take effect until January 1, 2005, to give the state's currently registered domestic partners enough time to consider the responsibilities that will come with the new law--and state officials enough time to educate them. Among many other provisions, partners will be responsible for each other's debt and the financial support of children. If they want, registered couples can opt out of the registry.
The signing of the bill comes just weeks after Davis signed another pro-gay measure that added gender identity to the list of classes covered by the state law prohibiting sex discrimination in housing and employment, extending protections to transgendered people as well as individuals who do not conform to gender stereotypes. "The gay community here will now have the strongest rights in the country," Kors said.
The new legislation will have an important impact on the rest of the country, Kors added. "While Congress and President Bush are talking about how they can discriminate against our community, here in California we're working to protect everyone," he said. "What happens here does eventually filter its way through the country."