California is a state that has consistently been distinguished by an independent, progressive spirit. It is no coincidence that the “Golden State” is a place where issues such as environmental conservation, medical marijuana, and the rights of gays and lesbians are openly debated. Such issues may be controversial, but in California at least, the public is willing to discuss them and potentially arrive at solutions.
In the spirit of this progressivism, California is equally open-minded when it comes to marriage. The state recognizes that not everyone is part of a relationship that is legally defined as “marriage.” Gay and lesbian couples, for example, often live together, but cannot legally marry. As a result, these couples do not enjoy in the same legal benefits as married couples.
In an effort to remedy this disparity, California offers an alternative to marriage: registered domestic partnerships. The state provides certain legal rights to same-sex couples who register as domestic partners. In addition, unmarried opposite-sex couples in which at least one party is over the age of sixty-two can register as domestic partners. If a couple meets all requirements, they can file a Declaration of Domestic Partnership with the California Secretary of State. Once a domestic partnership has been approved, the couple will be granted many of the same rights that they would have as a married couple. For example, their property will be subject to community property laws, and they will have the right to medical and disability benefits under one another’s respective health insurance plans.
These rights are collectively designed by California to accommodate same-sex couples and couples in their senior years. Domestic partners should be aware, however, that even with the progressive spirit of California, they are still not considered “married” when it comes to taxes. Domestic partners cannot file for a marital deduction or seek a deduction based on their communal assets. This is one area where California still appears to be firmly in line with the rest of the nation.