Laura Goldin wants to substitute five words in the state Civil Code with two words that supporters say would undo years of anti-gay discrimination, and opponents say would undermine society’s structure.
The change Goldin wrote in a proposed code revision, unanimously endorsed by directors of the Bar Assn. of San Francisco, would define marriage as a “personal relation arising out of a civil contract between two people.”
Under current law the wording is, between “a man and a woman.”
The change would have let Larry Brinkin take a three-day leave after the death of his lover of 11 years. His employer would not let him off, although a co-worker got time off for the death of a stepmother he had never met.
It would have made it easier for Donna Hitchens and her partner to adopt. Hitchens, an attorney, had to become the child’s guardian, leaving her partner with no legal parental authority until they successfully challenged the law; ultimately, they legally adopted two children.
It also would force hospitals to allow a gay AIDS patient’s lover to visit in an intensive care unit. Many hospitals now only let in relatives.
Gay couples live in a “limbo-like state outside of the law,” said Peter Keane, president of the local association. “It’s a pariah-type class that’s set up within the law. To me, it’s an unfairness issue.”
Redefining marriage to include homosexuals would grant all the rights, privileges--and burdens--of marriage to gay couples. Among the areas affected if the proposal is made into law are tax exemptions, inheritance laws, pensions and health plans, as well as parenting privileges and adoption rights.
“We’re not for it,” said Deacon Norman D. Phillips, spokesman for Catholic Archbishop John Quinn. “To us, marriage is a sacrament with deeply religious overtones. Our church believes marriage can only be entered into by a male and a female.” He said that Quinn believes that some inequities may warrant compensation, but calls for use of contracts “that don’t establish a quasi-marriage.”
The resolution must survive two local reviews to be considered by the State Bar Conference of Delegates in September, when about 500 representatives of the state’s 117,000 lawyers will consider and propose new laws and plan repeal efforts. If it passes, Bar lobbyists will seek a legislative sponsor.
The specification of “a man and a woman” became law in 1977 after a spate of gay marriages, which were not prohibited then. Under the amendment signed by former Gov. Edmund G. Brown Jr., homosexuals have little say regarding partners’ medical care and cannot share insurance coverage or health benefits.
In West Hollywood, the first U.S. city governed by a majority of gay city officials, unmarried city employees may add their partners to health benefit and pension plans. Berkeley and Santa Cruz offer similar benefits.
In San Francisco, where an estimated 10% of the residents are homosexual, Board of Supervisors President Harry Britt, the panel’s only gay member, has spent years trying to provide sweeping rights to “alternative families.”
Goldin, who is not gay, said her proposal also would include child custody, community property and spousal support obligations.
Supporters do not anticipate throngs of gay couples flocking to the altar, but they insist that everyone should have the opportunity--and equal rights.
Auto insurance companies that offer family reductions exclude homosexuals and unmarried heterosexual couples, and income tax laws favor married couples in some ways, according to Karen Strauss of the Lesbian Rights Project.
“So long as benefits are given or taken away based on relationship status, then we want access to them as well,” said Cynthia Goldstein, an attorney with National Gay Rights Advocates.
Like many lesbians, Hitchens says she would marry if she could. After 12 years with her partner and two adopted children, she said economics--not emotion--would prompt her to tie the legal knot.
Brinkin, who lost a court battle against his employer over bereavement leave for the death of Richard Reich, is not sure whether he would marry. “My commitment comes from my heart and I don’t need a piece of paper to do that.”
Advocates of the change contend that the issue is purely a question of law, that the equal protection clause of the 14th Amendment of the Constitution prohibits discrimination against classes of people and should cover homosexuals.
“My guess is that the debate is going to be much more sociological than legal,” said Colin W. Wied, president of the California Bar. “Society would recoil at this idea. My guess is that lawyers will follow suit.”