Fiona Ma for State Assembly

Bills Get Ready for Post-Prop. 8 Era

SACRAMENTO - In anticipation of life after Proposition 8, several bills designed to streamline bureaucratic processes for same-sex couples and ensure religious freedom for clergy opposed to gay marriage are on their way to the governor for his signature.

Lawmakers "are trying to anticipate any objections," said Jesse Choper, a professor at UC Berkeley School of Law. "They may be eliminating what they think is opposition to effectuating gay marriage in California."

The most significant piece of legislation preparing for the legalization of same-sex marriage is SB 906, sponsored by openly gay Senate member Mark Leno, D-San Francisco. The bill, which won final Senate approval by a vote of 22-11 on Aug. 24, reaffirms the first amendment right of clergy to abstain from officiating same-sex marriages.

"We saw through the Prop 8 campaign two years ago that there were some faith community leaders who were sincerely concerned in their protestations that if Prop 8 failed, they would be forced to perform marriages contrary to their religious tenets and were even worried about losing their tax-exempt status [if they didn't perform the marriages,]" Leno said. "We wanted to reassure them in statute that would not be the case and that's what this bill does."It passed the Assembly Aug. 19 on a 46-25 vote.

Another bill going to the governor makes it easier for domestic partners who subsequently marry to legally split. Sponsored by Assembly Speaker Pro Tem Fiona Ma, D-San Francisco, AB 2700 creates a consolidated form and procedure to simultaneously end a domestic partnership and civil marriage. It received Assembly approval on May 6 by a vote of 47-26. Under the current system, couples have to go through a separate process for dissolving each. The bill applies to both heterosexual and same-sex couples; however, gay rights groups say it will particularly benefit the latter because they are more likely to initially enter into a domestic partnership. The bill passed the Senate by a 26-9 vote on August 19.

While many Democrats are laying the groundwork for the legalization of same-sex marriage, supporters of Prop. 8 say they are worried about threats to their religious freedom if Chief U.S. District Judge Vaughn R. Walker's Aug. 4 ruling striking down the voter-approved ban is not overturned. Prop. 8 supporters have appealed that ruling to the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals.

"Our principal concern is not that clergy are going to be compelled to officiate at gay weddings, so to speak," said Nathan Diament, director of public policy for the New York-based Union of Orthodox Jewish Congregations of America. "There's all sorts of ways where religious institutions might have their benefits or privileges or other things that protect their religious autonomy