California Domestic Partners Act of 2003

My partner Bob and I celebrated our 15th anniversary last Monday. We filed for domestic partnership with the California Secretary of State in June, 2000. Since then, we have taken advantage of a number of benefits with our wonderfully supportive employer, not the least of which was the ability to add Bob to my HMO plan under domestic partner coverage when his health failed and he had to go on disability.

We are no stranger to the health care system, having faced a number of threatening medical issues in the last few years. We notice how often I have to explain why I’m entitled to stay by and visit Bob when in a hospital. Many times, saying “I’m his domestic partner” produces only a blank stare.

Kaiser Permanente is in the forefront of equitable and accessible health care, yet nobody seems to know what to do when a domestic partner arrives on the scene. “Family” works better, and it’s truthful. I have only been denied the ability to stick with Bob in a couple of emergency hospital situations, where the answer “spouse” would have worked. In a medical emergency, we’re more interested in timely attention to Bob, than in proving a point.

We face banking issues, mostly stuff we should have taken care of years ago. I can’t open a joint account with Wells Fargo, where Bob has banked for 25 years or longer, because my own account with Wells Fargo is new, and we haven’t gone the Financial Power of Attorney route. For this Wells Fargo customer, Bob has to come in, presumably, with oxygen and hospital bed and meds.

In short, nobody knows exactly what rights and responsibilities we do have, including us. I researched it a bit. The following is excerpted from a Google html version of the PDF file

What is the California Domestic Partnership Rights and Responsibilities Act of 2003?

It is an Act passed by the California legislature and signed by Governor Davis in September of 2003 that is designed to give persons living in registered domestic partnerships rights and responsibilities more similar to those of marriage. The Act is sometimes referred to by its bill designation of “AB 205.” It is in California’s Family Code beginning at section 297.

In general, what rights does the Act provide for Domestic Partners?

Generally, partners “shall have the same rights, protections, and benefits . . . under law as are granted to . . . spouses.” Specifically, partners have rights equal to those of spouses under probate law, employment law, and discrimination law. Public entities are required to extend to Domestic Partners any rights extended to spouses in terms of insurance and retirement benefits and any other employment rights mandated by law.

What I find is that there are specific rights in dealing with CA state entities, and in applying for student financial aid. More general provisions are tied to a governing body of law, The California Family Code.

In short, domestic partners – and all those with whom we deal institutionally – have to be attorneys to argue effectively for a specific right in a specific situation. “Because the California Family Code says so” is a guaranteed show-stopper, if it might have any effect at all. Don’t try it if you’re in a hurry. We, and the folks we deal with, are not equipped to make a legal determination on the spot whether the Act covers a given situation or not. And, of course, none of this is any good at all outside the state of California (we own property in Arizona), even in other states which do support domestic partnership or even same-sex marriage.

In order to mitigate the harm done to same-sex households by feudal reactionaries – who believe that your partnership or marriage is fundamentally a matter of public property and consent – we’ve created a horrible hodgepodge of laws. Some rights are undefinable, some are denied, and some are in hopeless conflict with other laws and other levels of government.

The short-term workaround is for domestic partners to continue dealing with obstacles issue-by-issue, as we have. In our experience, by far most of the people we deal with bend over backwards to be fair.

And, in the long run, the person who is permitted those bedside visits is probably going to be the one paying the bills, and authorizing the treatments, who has already been sitting by that bed for weeks.

You were probably wondering, what is the California Family Code? Here is the currently famous provision:


300. Marriage is a personal relation arising out of a civil
contract between a man and a woman, to which the consent of the
parties capable of making that contract is necessary. Consent alone
does not constitute marriage. Consent must be followed by the
issuance of a license and solemnization as authorized by this
division, except as provided by Section 425 and Part 4 (commencing
with Section 500).

In conclusion: “In general, what rights does the Act provide for Domestic Partners?”

Nobody knows exactly what rights and responsibilities we do have, including us.

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