Companies that want to do business with California would have to offer the same benefits to their employees' domestic partners as they do to the spouses of their married employees, under legislation approved early Saturday by the state assembly. Republicans objected that the measure tramples on the religious and other rights of employers who may object to gay relationships. Democrats contended that the measure is another step in discouraging discrimination by businesses that want the privilege of gaining state contracts. The measure was sent to Gov. Gray Davis for his signature after being approved 41-31.
"It is fundamentally about equal rights, and it is practically about equal pay" offered in the form of benefits, said the author, Assemblywoman Christine Kehoe (D-San Diego). The requirement can be waived in emergencies and when there is only one bidder. By reducing the number of bidders and decreasing competition, the bill is expected to cost the state millions of additional dollars on the
more than $6 billion spent annually on state contracts.
In 1999, California became the first state to allow gay and lesbian couples--as well as elderly couples--to register as domestic partners. Two years ago the state legislature passed a measure providing registered twosomes approximately a dozen rights previously available only to heterosexual married couples or their next of kin, including the right to make medical decisions for incapacitated partners, the right to sue for a partner's wrongful death, and the right to adopt a partner's child. A bill to expand those rights to include almost all the state-level rights afforded married couples is currently on Davis's desk. Davis has said he will sign the bill.
In related news, Equality California, the state's gay lobbying organization, announced Monday that domestic partners are covered in the final version of the Health Insurance Act of 2003, which was adopted by the California legislature on the last day of the 2003 session. If signed into law, the measure will provide health coverage to individuals who work for large- and medium-size employers. For large employers, this coverage will extend to dependents, which specifically includes domestic partners. "By including domestic partners equally with spouses in a non-LGBT civil rights bill, the legislature has again expressed its support of equal treatment of same-sex couples under state law," said Geoffrey Kors, Equality California's executive director. Under current law, employers are generally not required to provide health care coverage for employees and dependents. Under this program, medium and large employers will be required to either provide health benefits or pay into a program that will provide them. Of importance to California's gay families and registered domestic partners, the group said the bill would require coverage of employees (and their dependents) of large employers (with 200 or more employees) beginning January 1, 2006. Under the provisions of the bill, a "dependent" means the spouse or domestic partner or minor child of a covered individual. The bill now goes to Davis, who has until October 12 to sign or veto it.