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Same-Sex Marriage in California

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Same-Sex Marriage in California

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 family law attorney in California.

Photo of page author Matthew Izzi

, LegalMatch Legal Writer and Attorney at Law

Last Modified: 06-19-2014 12:54 PM PDT

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