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Same-Sex Couples Rights Bill Passed by Assembly

June 05, 2003|Nancy Vogel, Carl Ingram and Jenifer Warren | Times Staff Writer

SACRAMENTO — The Assembly on Wednesday passed a bill to greatly expand the rights and responsibilities of same-sex couples despite charges that it undermines the will of voters who approved a pro-marriage initiative three years ago.

On a partisan vote of 41 to 29 after an hour of heartfelt debate, the Assembly approved AB 205 by Assemblywoman Jackie Goldberg (D-Los Angeles).

The bill would give gay and lesbian couples -- as well as heterosexual domestic partners -- many of the same rights and responsibilities that the state bestows on married couples. It would amend many sections of law dealing with such subjects as child custody, financial duties to children, public assistance, transfer of property, tax exemptions, organ donations and burial.

Republicans argued that the bill would reverse Proposition 22, a 2000 initiative stating that only marriage between a man and a woman is valid in California. Voters passed it 61% to 39%.

"I don't think this bill is about equality," said Assemblyman Jay La Suer (R-La Mesa). "I think this bill is about subverting the will of the people."

Goldberg said the bill does nothing to undermine Proposition 22. It simply ascribes rights and responsibilities to domestic partners that will help them take care of their families, she said. The bill would, for example, guarantee that a surviving partner would gain custody of a couple's children in the event of the other partner's death.

"This is first, last and only about equal rights," said Goldberg, a lesbian with a longtime partner and an adopted son. "I want your acceptance, but I don't need it. I do need equal protection under the law."

Some Democrats called the bill historic. Before it can become law, it must be approved by the Senate and signed by Gov. Gray Davis, who has not taken a position on the measure.

Of the hundreds of bills handled by the Assembly, said Assemblyman Joe Nation (D-San Rafael), "some are important, some are irrelevant and some frankly are long overdue. This is one of those that's long overdue."

In other action in a busy Legislature, Senate Democrats rejected Republican warnings that they were potentially playing into the hands of international terrorists and voted Wednesday to issue driver's licenses to approximately 2 million illegal immigrants in California.

The bill, a tougher version of a measure that was vetoed by Gov. Gray Davis as lacking adequate safeguards to protect public safety, was approved on a party-line 24-14 vote and sent to the Assembly, where its prospects for passage are considered good.

The action occurred as the Senate and Assembly raced against a Friday deadline to pass hundreds of their own bills to the other house as the Legislature prepares to fix its full attention on enacting a budget by July 1 and recessing for a summer vacation two weeks later.

The lawmakers also approved legislation to grant "amnesty" to as many as 500,000 illegal ferrets in California, clamp controls on runaway medical costs in the embattled workers' compensation system and regulate ownership of an ultra-high-powered gun known as the .50-caliber BMG, a military rifle that is highly accurate at a range of one mile or more and whose bullets can pierce armored fighting machines.

For Sen. Gil Cedillo (D-Los Angeles), it was the third time that the Senate had faced his legislation to provide driver's licenses to an estimated 2 million immigrants who are in the United States illegally.

Davis previously vetoed similar bills on grounds that licensing illegal immigrants poses a national security threat. He and his law enforcement allies, including Sheriff Lee Baca of Los Angeles County, have noted that the Middle Eastern terrorists who attacked the World Trade Center and Pentagon in 2001 carried driver's licenses issued in the United States.

But Cedillo and Sen. Richard Alarcon (D-Sylmar) asserted that such arguments are meritless.

"Not one scintilla of evidence has ever been presented that demonstrates that there is some nexus or causal relationship between a driver license and terrorism," Cedillo told the Senate.

He said his bill merely recognized the "reality" that illegal immigrants in California, some of whom have been in the state for decades, are here permanently, contribute to the economy, rear families, pay taxes and drive on the highways without a license. It would better for them to be properly trained to drive, take an examination and purchase automobile insurance, Cedillo said.

But Republicans insisted that the measure would weaken California standards and that other states might refuse to recognize driver's licenses issued by the California Department of Motor Vehicles.

"Let's be honest. The real purpose of this bill is to legitimize the residency of those who have broken our federal immigration laws and are in the country illegally," charged Sen. Tom McClintock (R-Thousand Oaks).

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