Today’s statement from the church about marriage is intriguing because of what it says about non-marital legal rights. The statement reads, in part:
The Church does not object to rights (already established in California) regarding hospitalization and medical care, fair housing and employment rights, or probate rights, so long as these do not infringe on the integrity of the family or the constitutional rights of churches and their adherents to administer and practice their religion free from government interference.
As a factual matter, registered domestic partners (including same-sex partners) receive broad protection under existing state law, and did so even prior to In Re Marriage Cases. Probate, housing, insurance, and medical rights are among the rights that same-sex couples could receive if they registered their partnership. (For instance, Cal residents have the same legal right to family leave to care for an ill domestic partner as they would an ill spouse.)
The California code is explicit in this recognition. California Family Code, section 297.5 provides: “Registered domestic partners shall have the same rights, protections, and benefits, and shall be subject to the same responsibilities, obligations, and duties under law, whether they derive from statutes, administrative regulations, court rules, government policies, common law, or any other provision or sources of law, as are granted to and imposed upon spouses.” And it seems, from today’s statement, that the church is more or less okay with this. (!)
The Protectmarriage.com coalition has historically opposed these rights. This does not appear on the current version of the proteactmarriage.com website, but is clear from prior site versions:
6. Would the ProtectMarriage Amendment allow “homosexual marriage by a different name”?
Answer: No. By recognizing marriage between a man and a woman as the only legal union in California , this amendment would prevent any law from recognizing, or giving rights on the basis of, other personal relationships that attempt to imitate marriage, such as homosexual “domestic partnerships” or “civil unions.”
7. Would the ProtectMarriage Amendment allow the Legislature to give, or require private employers to give, the legal rights and benefits of married spouses to other relationships, such as “domestic partnerships”?
Answer: No. Since marriage would be the only legal union that may be recognized under the ProtectMarriage Amendment, no other adult relationships that attempt to imitate marriage could be legally recognized. Since no other type of intimate union would be legally recognized, it logically follows that there would also be no basis upon which to confer rights, benefits, or obligations on such un-recognized relationships.
In addition, the church previously appeared to oppose Domestic Partner rights. Elder Wickman stated:
PUBLIC AFFAIRS: Would you extend the same argument against same-gender marriage to civil unions or some kind of benefits short of marriage?
ELDER WICKMAN: One way to think of marriage is as a bundle of rights associated with what it means for two people to be married. What the First Presidency has done is express its support of marriage and for that bundle of rights belonging to a man and a woman. The First Presidency hasn’t expressed itself concerning any specific right. It really doesn’t matter what you call it. If you have some legally sanctioned relationship with the bundle of legal rights traditionally belonging to marriage and governing authority has slapped a label on it, whether it is civil union or domestic partnership or whatever label it’s given, it is nonetheless tantamount to marriage. That is something to which our doctrine simply requires us to speak out and say, “That is not right. That’s not appropriate.”
In contrast, the current Newsroom statement appears to be a move towards acceptance of Domestic Partner rights — mentioning specific, important legal rights, like probate, medical care, and employment law protections — so long as the label of marriage is not included.
As I said at Sunstone, Prop 8 itself — and for that matter, In re Marriage Cases — is just not that big of a deal, legally. It only concerns the marriage label. For same-sex couples I know, In re Marriage Cases was a welcome development, but the real substantive rights of same-sex couples — which were already established under state law — are much more important.
If the church is truly moving away from opposition to Domestic Partner rights, and towards a stance of only opposing the label of marriage, that’s bound to be welcome news for same-sex couples, particularly our gay and lesbian LDS brothers and sisters.