Marriage debate an exciting ride

Since 2004, when Mistermayor took a match to the dry haystack of homophobia by recognizing same-sex marriages, I’ve been fascinated by the legalities of gay matrimony.

Much of my interest stems from the fact that I find the issue so simple as to be untellable. How does one argue that water is wet? If I were representing San Francisco in the In re Marriage Cases, my legal submission would read something like: “May it please the court: Seriously? Duh.”

And so, much like that guy who can recite football statistics all day long but can’t run a mile, I follow the same-sex spouse litigation with excited awe. Most people who know me are abundantly aware of this fixation, so, like a lifeline on “Who Wants to be a Millionaire?” I regularly get phone calls to answer questions or settle debates. One that I get frequently: What remains of the differences between domestic partnership and marriage?

For starters, you should know that federal law recognizes only marriage between a man and a woman. It doesn’t matter if two people are married, domestic partners or Facebook friends in the state of California, if both people can safely use the same dressing room at Wal-Mart, they aren’t a couple for the purposes of federal benefits such as Social Security, Medicare, veterans benefits and federal taxes.

For California state law purposes though, the Family Code requires that registered domestic partners “have the same rights, protections, and benefits, and … be subject to the same responsibilities, obligations, and duties under law … as are granted and imposed upon spouses.” So, generally speaking (and obviously aside from the intangible personal and social value of being “married”), domestic partnership is the same as marriage with a few exceptions.

To register as domestic partners, both persons must be at least 18 years old and share a residence. Marriage has no cohabitation requirement and persons younger than 18 can be married so long as they get a court order. So, if you have a 16-year-old pen pal in Fresno, marriage is the better choice.

Establishing domestic partnership is much easier than marriage. To get married, a couple must go to the county clerk, obtain a license and certificate of registry, have the union “solemnized” and return the documents to the clerk, who keeps the license and a copy of the certificate and sends the original certificate to the State Registrar of Vital Statistics. To become domestic partners, a couple need only file a “Declaration of Domestic Partnership” with the secretary of state, who adds it to a statewide database. It’s harder to redeem frequent-flier miles than to register as domestic partners.

On the other hand, where one or both people in a relationship believe in good faith that they are married, but for some reason the marriage is void, the couple may still be treated as married — this is referred to as the “putative spouse” doctrine. At least one appellate court has held that, but there is no such thing as “putative domestic partner” — be careful with that paperwork, partners.

Getting out of a domestic partnership is a little easier than marriage, too. Both parties need not live in California to end a California-registered domestic partnership, but to get a divorce in California at least one of the married people has to live here for six months and have lived in the county where they are filing for divorce for at least three months. Also, under certain circumstances, a couple can end their domestic partnership by jointly filing a “Notice of Termination of Domestic Partnership” with the secretary of state.

Under the same circumstances, a married couple has to file a joint petition in court and wait for a judge to grant the divorce.

Also, couples may designate their marriage certificate and date of marriage as “confidential” so the information is not available to the public. There is no such process for domestic partners.

The final difference is this: While straight couples 62 years and older may register as domestic partners (to preserve their single-status Social Security benefits), heterosexuals are otherwise ineligible to register as domestic partners under state law. Given the administrative ease of dealing with domestic partnerships, I wonder if straight couples will step up and demand equal rights or choose to bask in the rare glow of hetero discrimination.

Fight for your right

At 10 a.m. Saturday, there will be a “No on Prop. 8” rally at 2278 Market St. Proposition 8 is the statewide initiative on the November ballot that would revoke the right of gays and lesbians to marry. I’ll be at the rally, mostly because I support the right of same-sex couples to marry, but also because gay marriage equals more weddings. And I’m not gonna lie to you: I love weddings. The more chances I get to put on a dress and a regrettable dance floor display, the better. Heeeeey Macarena!

Smoking decision the hot issue as supes reconvene

Glory be! Wonks rejoice! The Board of Supervisors Show is back on the air starting Tuesday. Here are a few things we can look forward to:

Supervisor Chris Daly’s proposed ordinance to ban smoking pretty much everywhere came under fire (heh, heh) at the Aug. 8 meeting of the city Operations and Neighborhood Services Committee. Some of the complaints were:

1. The ordinance would ban smoking in taxicabs, but the Taxicab Commission had not been consulted;

2. The ban could affect people smoking marijuana who don’t yet have a medical marijuana card;

3. The law invites litigation abuse by allowing citizens to sue each other for violations;

4. The areas in which smoking is prohibited overlap in some places, effectively making large swaths of The City entirely nonsmoking.

Given these (and other) issues, the committee — Supervisors Carmen Chu, Sean Elsbernd and Jake McGoldrick — voted not to pass the law on to the full board just yet. But Supervisors Daly, Tom Ammiano, Ross Mirkarimi and Gerardo Sandoval were all, “Nobody puts Baby in a corner!” They each signed an order yanking the ordinance out of committee so it will go before the full board Tuesday. (Board rules allow four supervisors to do this.)

Given that the questions raised in committee still appear unresolved, I suspect that if the ordinance passes (and it may not), it will be a candidate for mayoral veto.

Speaking of Mistermayor, on Aug. 12 he announced almost $5 million in funding freezes in this year’s budget, eliminating several expenditures near and dear to the hearts of some supervisors. Aug. 12 was also the last date the board met before going on hiatus, so we have yet to see any retaliatory proposals by supervisors. Now that the board is back in session, we may see one or more supes fire back — perhaps with a proposal to defund some mayoral office or initiative.

Or maybe they will all work together, holding hands, getting along and toiling in mature unison for a better San Francisco.

What? It could happen …