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Whither Domestic

Whither Domestic


Now that marriage equality has been mandated for the Golden State, what happens to gay and lesbian Californians registered as domestic partners? Lambda Legal's Jennifer C. Pizer explains it all.

Nearly 50,000 couples have registered as domestic partners in California since its DP registry opened on January 1, 2000. So now that there's marriage equality in the state, thanks to the California supreme court's ruling Thursday, what do domestic partners and curious observers need to know? We asked Jennifer C. Pizer, senior counsel for Lambda Legal.

The Advocate: Will domestic partnerships automatically convert to marriage?Pizer: Nothing happens to those registered domestic partnerships unless the couples decide to change their legal status. California's domestic-partner registry is open to gay and lesbian couples and heterosexual couples if one person is at least 62. There is no automatic provision that domestic partnerships will become a marriage. The registered domestic partnership law is intact and unchanged by [Thursday's] ruling, and unless and until some legislators suggest that it should be changed, it will remain as it has been.

If a same-sex couple in a domestic partnership gets married, does it change their domestic partnership status? If you've been in a registered domestic partnership and you marry, your registration remains as a registration. You will have two legal statuses that are completely consistent with each other. People can have two overlapping statuses. If the couple were to break up -- which is sad -- they can go into court and the court could dissolve both statuses at once.

Which court? The family court has the power to terminate or dissolve registered domestic partnerships and they can dissolve a marriage.

Is there any benefit to being both registered domestic partners and married? I could imagine circumstances in which a couple might find it helpful because there are some states that have an anti-marriage recognition law that doesn't cover domestic partnerships or civil unions. So if a couple were to travel into a state like that, there could be a benefit. But we're not recommending people have both -- this is a technical, legal way of thinking about it.

Is there a tax difference in how domestic partners and married same-sex couples will be treated? This spring is the first time domestic-partner couples had to file taxes according to the same rules as married heterosexual couples. Married same-sex couples will be treated under state law like married heterosexual couples.

But not federally. Not having the federal government respect our marriages and our domestic partnerships is not made more or less complex by being married as opposed to being in a registered domestic partnership. The disconnect between state and federal law is the same either way.

Do you think that the number of couples entering into domestic partnerships will increase if the California supreme court blocks gay marriage until after the November election, when a constitutional amendment banning same-sex marriage is expected on the ballot? We don't expect it to be blocked. If the court were going to be receptive to that, they would have paused the effect of its decision [already], and it chose not to. It seems extremely unlikely that they would be receptive to the right-wing groups' request to delay.

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