How does marriage work in California? [Prop 8 related]

I read the Wikipedia article on Proposition 8, but I still have a number of questions. As I can’t find much else on the internet that isn’t obviously slanted, I turn to the wisdom of the Teeming Millions. Please note, I’m not interested in religious or moral arguements here, I’m merely looking for the legal facts regarding marriage and similar institutions in California.

A common arguement I see made in support of Proposition 8 in California is that same sex couples living there already have rights identical to different sex couples, under state law, and the only difference post-Prop 8 is that the word marriage cannot be used in the case of same-sex couples.

  1. Is this correct? I can’t believe that’s all that is at stake here.

  2. Is there any other instance of a particular use of a word being unlawful?

  3. If it is really just a ban on a use of a word, how will it be enforced? What is the penalty? If I were to accidentally refer to 2 men (or women) as ‘spouses’ instead of ‘domestic partners’ within earshot of the police, what would happen to me?

  4. How, do (now, apparently only heterosexual) people get married in California? Is it just some paperwork?

  5. How, do people get a domestic partnership or civil union recognized in California? Are these arrangements only for homosexual people?

  6. What rights and/or privileges come with marriage in California?

  7. How do the rights and privileges conveyed by same sex unions in California differ from those conveyed by the marriages of heterosexuals (and formerly also homosexuals)? State law only, please. I understand that there are differences under federal law, but California’s laws have no effect on that.

  8. Demographically, who voted for and against this?

I am a recently married straight Californian who has homosexual friends who have also recently been married. I also have straight friends who have lived together unmarried for 10+ years. I can answer a couple of these questions but not all.

More or less. My understanding is that Civil Unions (possibly domestic partnership, actually I think it is domestic partnership and not civil union now that I think about it.) are sanctioned and provide for identical (or nearly identical) rights and privileges to the couple on the state and local levels. I am not sure about federal. But frankly, civil union isn’t married.

It isn’t the use of the word that is illegal, it is that the government doesn’t recognize the marriage and won’t issue marriage licenses or certificates to same sex couples.

It’s not. See above. Many gay couples I know (and one in particular that I am thinking of) referred to themselves as married before it was legal, and introduced each other as “my husband” etc. This didn’t stop them from going out and getting married officially once it became legal. Again, there is actually a difference.

You have to get a license. This involves going to a courthouse and swearing an oath that you know what you are getting into (more or less) and signing some documents. You then have to have a ceremony of some sort, either at the courthouse or what have you, by a state sanctioned agent. You then have to sign more paperwork and have that paperwork witnessed and signed by the officiant. This gets sent to the state who then mails back your marriage certificate. You must have the wedding within 90 days of the license being issued.

I am not sure, but I am inclined to say no they aren’t only for homosexual people. I could be wrong on this, so don’t hold me to it.

Lot’s, I will let someone more qualified than myself give a full answer.

State law? My understanding is there is no difference on a legal level. On a societal level, there is a huge difference. I can tell you this as a person who has been with my current spouse for years, who was engaged for year, but only recently got married. People treat you differently when you are married. My relationship is treated differently than my straight friends who have been together unmarried for 10+ years. I was still in high school when they started living together, but I am treated like I have a more “real” realtionship than they do because I am married. It is also treated differently than the relationship of the gay couple I am friends with who have been together for almost 20 years and moved to Florida before marriage became legal in CA.

It’s different.

I don’t think I am qualified to touch this one.

I can’t answer all the questions, but I’ll tell you it’s ridiculously easy to get heterosexually married in California. I’ve done it. You open the Yellow Pages, find someone who does marriages, go there, show your ID, say “I do,” and that’s it. You then take that paperwork to the county and have them register it. Easy peasy. It couldn’t be any easier, quicker or nonchalant in Las Vegas. In fact, at the time my ID happened to be expired. The person officiating noticed, but accepted it anyway.

The one statistic I saw as that Blacks voted for it by 70% to 30%. But I think it depends a lot on geography. It was not at all popular where I live (SF Bay area), but quite popular in the more inland, rural areas. Also, surprisingly, it was popular in LA area (mainly because of the larger Black and Hispanic populations there, IIRC).

I found a map where you can select which race/prop you’re interested in broken down by county. You can apply other filters to the results like income and white & latino population percentages.

LA Times map.

My county, Monterey county, voted “no.”

There’s a world of difference between identical and nearly identical.

So, if I follow you, the rights and procedures are probably identical, (for arguement’s sake, let’s say they are until someone points out a difference) and the only difference, as far as the state is concerned, is that the piece of paper must say either ‘Marriage’ or ‘Civil Union’, depending on the genders of the people involved. It’s mind-boggling that so much money was spent to change a state Constitution over such a tiny distinction.

Interestingly, I lived with my wife for long time before we married. I can certainly agree that some people have irrational views about the ‘seriousness’ of a relationship based on the entirely legal/economic decision to involve the state. When we moved here, we encountered more than a few people who remarked that our cohabitation was ‘disgusting’, never to my face of course.

That’s kind of shocking. Didn’t anybody point out the close parallels with the anti-interracial marriage laws?

Also, I seem to recall hearing that gay people were disproportionately in favor of civils rights for African Americans back in the 60’s and 70’s. Is this correct? If so, where’s the payback?

Now, that’s a useful map.

In Re Marriage Cases points out nine differences at FN24. (page 44 in the PDF version).

They’re not huge, but they’re real differences.

With domestic partnerships you MUST live with the other person. Marriages you do not have to

Blacks & Latinos voted overwhelmingly in favor of Prop 8, according to many sources. (secondary cite.)

The interactive map posted by levdrakon shows that most counties with a high Latino population (including Los Angeles County) voted in favor of Prop 8.

Keep in mind, there’s still tremendous prejudice against homosexuality in the black & latino communities, due to culture & religion – so these results aren’t that surprising, in hindsight. Many Hispanics belong to the Catholic Church, too.

Here is a The Atlantic article/blog asking, “Are blacks more homophobic than whites?”

The answer appears to be “yes,” but not unexpectedly, religion has something to do with it.

There’s still a raging debate on whether or not being gay is a matter of CHOICE.

If you’re black, you’re black…you can’t hide being black, and you certainly didn’t choose to be black. Whereas, being gay is something that’s easily hidden, and (some believe) isn’t something you are “born” with. (Naturally, gay people already know they were “born” gay – you can’t help who you’re attracted to! – but good luck convincing any non-gay person about that fact.)