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U.S. Supreme Court Decision on Gay Marriage


On June 26, 2015, the US Supreme Court released its decision in Obergefell v. Hodges, wherein Justice Anthony Kennedy, writing for the majority (5-4 decision) held that the Fourteenth Amendment to the United States Constitution requires all States to issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples and to recognize same-sex marriages lawfully licensed and performed out of state. Whatever your opinion of the decision, it is the law of the land, and same-sex couples can now marry in all 50 States.

However, how does Obergfell affect California same-sex couples, if at all? By way of history, same-sex couples have been able to marry in California since June 28, 2013, when the court decision striking down Proposition 8 went into effect. Even prior to that, California same-sex couples were allowed to marry for a limited time between June 16, 2008 and November 4, 2008.

Additionally, California acknowledged same-sex marriages who married out-of-state. As such, the recent Supreme Court decision will have little effect on California same-sex couples that wish to marry.

The most significant impact is that same-sex couples who were married in California will now have their marriages recognized in all 50 states. Prior to Obergefell, same-sex couples who married in California and moved to a state that did not recognize same-sex marriages, did not enjoy the rights and benefits bestowed upon married couples while living in that jurisdiction, and if they wanted to terminate their marriage, these couples would have to obtain their divorce or nullity in California (as opposed to in the State they were living). As a result of Obergefell, out-of-state same-sex couples married in California will no longer have to obtain their divorce in this state, as all jurisdictions must now recognize same-sex marriages, and presumably, allow them to terminate such marriages.

Another question about Obergefell is how, if at all, it affects registered domestic partners in California. Even before recognizing same-sex marriages, California recognized registered domestic partners with nearly all of the rights and responsibilities of married couples since January 1, 2005. Specifically, California Family Code Section 297.5(a) confirmed all the same rights, benefits responsibilities and obligations of married couples in California to domestic partners. However, the major difference between married couples and registered domestic partners is that registered domestic partners do not enjoy many of the federal benefits to offered to married couples.

So does Obergefell affect registered domestic partners in California? The answer according to the California Secretary of State website is no. Specifically, the Secretary of State’s website states the following:

The Court’s ruling in Obergfell v. Hodges did not invalidate or change any of the California Family Code Sections related to registered domestic partners. Domestic partnership registrations are different from marriage licenses. The California Secretary of State’s office will continue to process declarations of domestic partnership, notices of termination of domestic partnership and other related filings as permitted by state law. . .

Finally, can registered domestic partners in California get married without the need to terminate your domestic partnership? Although Obergefell was only released less then a week before the publication of this post, the answer is yes. Again, by way of history, when same-sex couples were allowed to marry in California in 2013, California also allowed current registered domestic partners (whether or not they were registered in California or out of state) to get married, provided that they were marrying the same person with whom they were in a domestic partnership. However, if you intend to marry someone who is not your domestic partner, then you will have to formally terminate your domestic partnership before you can get married.

Although Obergefell made national headlines and ended the nationwide debate regarding same-sex marriages, it will have be very little impact on the landscape of California family law.