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New law grants gays more rights

By David Scharfenberg Daily Planet
Wednesday January 02, 2002

Adoption was not as joyous as it might have been for Pamela Springer and Terri Giamartino, a lesbian couple in Berkeley who adopted each other’s biological children in the mid-1990s. 

“It was a humiliating process,” said Giamartino, describing how she and 

Springer had to host a social worker in their home, go before a judge for approval, and dish out hundreds of dollars in administrative fees to adopt. 

Tuesday, things got easier for gays, lesbians and heterosexuals registered as domestic partners. 

Assembly Bill 25, authored by Assemblymember Carole Midgen, D-San Francisco, and signed by Governor Gray Davis in October, officially went into effect Jan. 1, 

providing domestic partners in Berkeley and across the state with a whole host of parenting, medical and legal rights already enjoyed by heterosexual, married couples. 

The adoption provision of the new law provides domestic partners with “step-parent” status, allowing for speedier, less intrusive and less expensive adoptions of their partners’ biological children. 

“I think it’s a great step because it puts the partner in a position where they’re acknowledged as a parent and caretaker,” said Giamartino. 

The law will also allow domestic partners to file for disability benefits on behalf of an incapacitated partner, make medical decisions for a hospitalized mate and sue for the wrongful death of a partner, among other things. 

“I think it’s a landmark,” said Assemblymember Dion Aroner, D-Berkeley, 

who co-authored the bill, arguing that the law represents an important recognition of the validity of gay and lesbian relationships. 

Conservative opponents, in the legislature and in the public policy world, have argued that gay couples do not form legitimate family units, and that the law was 

meant to circumvent Proposition 22, passed by voters in 2000, which banned gay marriage in California. 

“We see AB25 as nothing less than a first step toward legalizing homosexual marriage,” said Karen Holgate, director of policy for Capitol Resource Group, Inc. a 

conservative think tank in Sacramento. Holgate says that gay marriage would undermine traditional, heterosexual marriage.  

But local advocates say domestic partners’ relationships are just as meaningful as those of married couples, and that gays and lesbians deserve the same rights as heterosexuals, particularly in times of crisis. 

“If you’re dealing with a partner being hospitalized or dying,” said Kriss Worthington, a gay Berkeley City Council member who advocated for passage of the bill, “it’s the worst time to be facing legal technicalities.” 

Kevin James, a gay Berkeley resident who works as a lawyer for the State of California, said the provision allowing a domestic partner to sue for wrongful death is the most radical section of the law. 

“This is a great step forward in recognizing that gay people really do have emotions,” said James, “in recognizing both the economic and emotional depth of gay relationships.” 

But, if local gay rights advocates are pleased with the new rights provided in the bill, they said they will not be fully satisfied until the state and federal governments allow gay and lesbian couples to marry, and enjoy the literally hundreds of rights accorded to heterosexual, married couples. 

The passage of Proposition 22 means that gay marriage will probably not 

be a reality in California any time soon, but advocates are still attempting to beef up domestic partners’ rights. 

Assemblyman Paul Koretz, D-West Hollywood, introduced Assembly Bill 1338 earlier this year. If passed, it would provide domestic partners with all the rights of married couples the state is able to furnish. 

However, some federal rights including those involving income and inheritance taxes and veterans benefits would remain beyond domestic partners’ reach. 

Scott Svonkin, Koretz’s chief of staff, hails AB 1338 as a dramatic step toward granting gays and lesbians important civil rights. 

But, Holgate said Koretz and his allies are overstepping their bounds by forwarding the bill. “The will of California’s voters was clearly stated when they passed Proposition 22,” she said. “This whole movement for AB 1138 is an affront to California voters by a group of arrogant legislators.” 

Svonkin said he expects the Assembly’s judiciary committee to release the bill for a vote in January. 

But, he admits that Gov. Gray Davis and moderate Democrats in the legislature may be unwilling to support the measure. 

“The reality is, it’s an election year for assemblymembers and the 

governor,” he said, suggesting that the bill might be too controversial 

to touch. 

The governor’s office had no comment on AB 1338 Monday. 

If Davis and moderates in the legislature combine with conservatives to block the bill, it will likely fail.  

Whatever the fate of AB 1338, local gays and lesbians say they have made great strides with the passage of AB 25, both practically and symbolically. 

“This reflects a huge social change over the past 20 years,” said James. “I live in a much more tolerant state today.”