Currently, there are 19 jurisdictions in the U.S. that perform and recognize same-sex marriages: California, Connecticut, Delaware, Hawaii, Illinois, Iowa, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, Minnesota, New Hampshire, New York, New Jersey, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, Vermont, Washington, and Washington D.C.

Is Same-Sex Marriage Legal in California?

California made news in June 2008 when that state’s Supreme Court found that its ban on same-sex marriage violated the equal protection guarantee in the California Constitution. This decision effectively legalized same-sex marriage in the nation’s most populous state.

However, shortly after the decision was rendered, a ballot measure known as Proposition 8, which sought to amend the state constitution to explicitly define marriage as a union between a man and a woman, was certified for the November ballot. On November 4, 2008, Proposition 8 passed with a narrow majority vote, once again banning same-sex marriage in California.

Shortly after Prop. 8 was passed, it was challenged in court. Eventually, due to a federal district court decision, same-sex marriage was deemed to be legal in California. In 2013, United States Supreme Court upheld the lower court’s decision on procedural grounds.

Are There Other Rights for Same-Sex Couples in California?

California also recognizes “domestic partnerships.” These legal arrangements are available to same-sex couples and offer almost all of the legal rights and responsibilities of marriage. 

The California legislature passed a law that recognizes same-sex marriages from other states, and upon meeting certain requirements, a same-sex couple who was married in California but now lives in a state that does not recognize their marriage can petition a California court for a same-sex divorce.

Federal Law

Under the federal Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA), the federal government did not recognize same-sex marriages. This meant that the same-sex spouses in California could not:

  • Receive federal spousal benefits
  • File joint federal tax returns
  • Receive spousal veteran’s benefits

In 2013, the Supreme Court ruled that DOMA was unconstitutional. Same-sex spouses who were legally married are now eligible to receive federal benefits.

Do I Need a California Lawyer?

If you are in a same-sex relationship, and are curious about the exact nature of your legal rights in California, you should consult with an experienced California family  attorney.