After years of litigation and voting, California’s three branches of government have united to rule that the California Constitution is wrong. By signing SB 1306, Governor Jerry Brown ratified the actions of the State Assembly to enact the ruling of the California Supreme Court: Marriage is now between two single people who consent to be married. The Family Code will no longer reference “husbands” and “wives” but rather spouses.
This is a historic step that opens the door for couples of every sexual combination to be legally married. Since the US Supreme Court’s ruling in June 2013 declaring that the trial verdict against the constitutional amendment stating that marriage was between one woman and one man could not remain a part of California’s constitution would stand, California has effectively been a state permitting same-sex marriage. Today, however, the California Family Code formally recognizes that fact. In bringing into alignment all three branches of government, this new law makes clear that two people can marry regardless of their sex.
It will be interesting to see if the availability of same-sex marriage produces a decline in civil unions (the mechanism created to permit same-sex couples the same benefits as a marriage without using the title ‘marriage’). It will also be interesting to see if the predictions of Proposition 8′s supporters comes true and other groups, currently denied the state of marriage, petition to have their relationships recognized as marriages as well.
For now, it is a remarkable moment in history, when the Christian conception of marriage (one man/one woman/for life) is formally and finally divorced from the law in California. I predict religious organizations of all types to now promote their definition of marriage as being one binding on the faithful while the law continues to move towards a more pragmatic recognition of family, however constituted, as being valid so long as it is based upon the consent of the adults involved. In that way, I suspect the First Amendment’s guarantee of the free exercise of religion for all citizens to be more forcefully asserted by those whose own marriage traditions have long been treated as illegitimate in a Christian-dominated legislative arena.
As family law attorneys, what does this mean?
First and foremost, it means advising clients to do ever more work to insure that their expectations in a marriage are reflected in a prenuptial agreement. Since California’s Family Code now has only three obligations provided for, by law, in the marriage: mutual respect, fidelity and support (CA FAM Code Sec. 720) and a marriage can be dissolved on the basis of irreconcilable differences, a couple desiring any other vows or requirements should do so in a prenuptial agreement. Many spiritual practices and religions have additional obligations, obligations that can only be legally enforced if the parties participate in a prenuptial agreement.
Second, it means that conventional dissolutions will soon be occurring for same sex couples. In the past, these relationships have been spared the usual process of dissolution with all its standardized forms and formal processes, because the civil union body of law was not as cumbersome as the dissolution body of law. I personally hope that more couples plan ahead and are prepared for the possibility of a dissolution when they first contract a marriage but that hope remains as intense for same sex couples as it is for opposite sex couples.
Third and finally, it means that we can all celebrate the resolution of a long-standing dispute in our society. While the courts have been given the power, through practice, of telling us what our laws are and should be, there is something important for our democratic republic in seeing that the law is generated by our legislatures and enacted by the consent of our executives. As long as the elected branches of government are not engaged in the process of drafting the laws and leaving it only to the courts to address, we lose an important part of our sovereignty. Whether a specific citizen of California hails or hates this new provision of law, we can all now say that this IS the law, enacted by our government.
As always, if you or someone you love has need of assistance and guidance in family law matters in California, the Bromund Law Group is here to help. We offer no cost consultations and provide comprehensive family law services in English and Spanish. This blog is not intended to provide specific guidance in your case and is rather offered for general educational purposes. Please do not rely on this blog for your case nor should you consider this entry to constitute the formation of an attorney-client relationship with the Bromund Law Group. If you have questions, please call us at 805.650.1100.