FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
SEPTEMBER 30, 2005
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CALIFORNIA FIRST STATE IN THE NATION TO PASS LAWS TO PROTECT AGAINST DISCRIMINATION IN INSURANCE AND HEALTH CARE ACCESS, PUBLIC ACCOMMODATIONS AND DOMESTIC PARTNER RIGHTS
Equality California 2005 Legislative Review: Landmark Year for Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender Civil Rights
Sacramento, CA - Equality California (EQCA), the largest and fastest-growing statewide lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) advocacy and civil rights organization, has had a landmark year for equality for all LGBT Californians. Overall, four LGBT civil rights bills were signed this year. Here is an overview of this year's LGBT rights legislation:
The California Legislature becomes the first legislative body in the nation to pass equal marriage rights, approvinng a bill that would have affected hundreds of thousands of same-sex couples. Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger now becomes the firrst and only Governor in the history of our nation to veto civil rights legislation that would end marriage discrimination for same-sex couples and their families by issuing state marriage licenses.
Assembly Bill 849, the Religious Freedom and Civil Marriage Protection Act, authored by Assemblymember Mark Leno with 30 co-authors and sponsored by Equality California, also was supported by more than 200 religious, labor and civil rights organizations. The California State Conference of the NAACP, United Farm Workers of America (UFW), Anti-Defamation League (ADL) and Chinese for Affirmative Action (CAA) are among the major civil rights organizations in California that supported the legislation.
"Marriage equality has been carjacked by the Governor," said Executive Director Geoffrey Kors of Equality California."If the Governor has revealed the sheep's clothing, exposing himself to be the kind of poll-driven, double speaking, politics-as-usual governor he promised he would not become. The Governor is playing dirty politics, and has not kept his pledge to be the governor of the people. Our community cannot be used as a litmus test to galvanize the extreme right wing."
"The glass is half-full, and the Governor needs to come out against any future ballot initiatives that would repeal legally recognized protections for our community," added Kors. "The Governor has said he believes in full protection under the law for same-sex couples and supports domestic partnerships. This is not full equality, and he knows better. No one is fooled by his parlor tricks and movie one-liners. The Governor is using the Legislature's historic vote for equality as a weapon to convince right-wing voters to support his ill-conceived legislative redistricting initiative. He also puts at risk tens of thousands of our families with these other Nov. 8 special election initiatives that go against the hard-working people of this state. We must stand with all Californians to tell the Governor that this is not over. We will be back."
Strengthening Discrimination-Free Public Accommodations
Legislation that will strengthen current law that protects lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) Californians against discriminatory business practices is now signed into law. Assembly Bill (AB) 1400, the Civil Rights Act of 2005, authored by Assemblymember John Laird (D-Santa Cruz) and sponsored by Equality California, builds upon the Unruh Civil Rights Act (Unruh Act) and related provisions to clarify and reinforce that all businesses that provide services, goods or accommodations to the public cannot discriminate based on sexual orientation, gender identity or marital status.
"Governor Schwarzenegger made the right decision to sign into law significant improvements to a significant civil rights law, the Unruh Act, making clear for businesses and customers that discrimination in any form is unacceptable," said Assemblymember Laird. "With the Governor's signature, we've strengthened one of the most comprehensive non-discrimination protections for California's LGBT community."
"Businesses should be discrimination-free, and our community deserves nothing less than full equality," said Equality California Executive Director Geoffrey Kors. "We applaud Assemblymember Laird for his commitment to protecting all Californians from discrimination. This is certainly model legislation that other states will soon follow."
Businesses subject to the Unruh Act include, but are not limited to, shopping centers, mobile home parks, bars and restaurants, schools, medical and dental offices, hotels and motels, and condominium homeowners' associations. The Unruh Act explicitly prohibits discrimination based on sex, race, color, religion, ancestry, national origin, disability or medical condition. Courts have held that the categories listed in the law are merely examples and that the Unruh Act should be interpreted broadly to prohibit arbitrary discrimination, including discrimination based on personal characteristics, geographical origin, physical attributes and individual beliefs.
Discrimination-Free Access to Health Care and Insurance Protections
Legislation that bans denials of insurance coverage based solely on a person's transgender status was passed by the Legislature and signed by Governor Schwarzenegger, making California the first state in the nation to enact these protections. AB 1586, authored by Assemblymember Paul Koretz (D-West Hollywood) and sponsored by Equality California, adds gender and gender identity to existing anti-discrimination provisions in California laws regulating insurance companies and health care service plans.
The new law will take effect January 1, 2006, and prohibits insurers and health plans from discriminating on the basis of gender identity in contracts and policies or in the provision of benefits or coverage.
"Transgender people are part of our human family and they deserve equal access to health coverage and treatments available to everyone else," said Assemblymember Koretz. "AB 1586 goes a long way toward ending the indignities that transgender men and women face when trying to access healthcare. This is a matter of human compassion and basic fairness."
"California's elected officials should be commended for giving attention to this important issue," said Equality California Executive Director Geoffrey Kors. "A ban on transgender discrimination in the provision of health insurance coverage is long overdue."
Despite existing statutes prohibiting discrimination based on sex, many people in California experience discrimination by insurance companies and health plans on the basis of gender, particularly members of California's transgender community. Some are denied the ability to purchase insurance or are denied coverage for medically necessary procedures simply because they are transgender.
Retirement Benefits for Domestic Partners
California's domestic partnership law has been strengthened by legislation to protect public employees from losing state retirement benefits upon the death of their domestic partner. Senate Bill (SB) 973, authored by LGBT Caucus Chair Senator Sheila Kuehl (D-Santa Monica) and sponsored by Equality California, allows domestic partners of public employees who retired prior to January 1, 2005, when Assembly Bill (AB) 205, California's comprehensive domestic partnership law, went into effect, to receive death benefits if the retiree dies before their partner.
"I'm very pleased that my colleagues supported this bill, which simply provides fairness for retired domestic partners," said Senator Kuehl.
"Legally recognized domestic partners desire and deserve long-term security and protections, just like anyone else," said Equality California Executive Director Geoffrey Kors. "After a lifetime of public service, they are entitled to that peace of mind. Public employees should be able to pass along their retirement benefits regardless of race, class, gender and sexual orientation."
AB 205 grants many rights to registered same-sex couples. One of these rights is community property, which includes pensions. SB 973 carries through the original intent of this legislation to reduce discrimination against registered domestic partners by making sure they are treated equally under the law.
Property Tax Law Protections for Domestic Partners
Senate Bill (SB) 565, authored by Senator Carole Migden (D-San Francisco), ensures legally recognized domestic partners are treated the same as spouses under California's property tax laws. Supported by Equality California, this legislation will prevent the reassessment of homes when ownership passes from one registered domestic partner to another, such as when one partner dies.
"We applaud Senator Carole Migden for her continued leadership and courage on this issue," said Executive Director Geoffrey Kors of Equality California. "Domestic partners can sleep in their beds tonight knowing that their families and homes will be protected."
In 1978, property taxation in California was dramatically changed when voters approved Prop. 13, an amendment to the California Constitution. Under Prop. 13, property was valued for tax purposes based upon its fair market value in 1975, with annual inflation adjustments limited at 2 percent. Properties are reassessed based upon fair market value only upon a change of ownership.
When a domestic partner dies, the surviving partner may potentially lose his or her home because the newly reassessed property becomes too much of a tax burden. Because Prop. 13 did not define "change in ownership," SB 565 strengthens current statues to exclude domestic partners from the "change in ownership" guidelines.
Two LGBT bill were vetoed by the Governor: the marriage equality bill and Assembly Bill (AB) 866 by Leland Yee (D-D-San Francisco/Daly City), which dealt with fair-campaign practices, calling for political candidates to sign a voluntary pledge not to use negative appeals based on sexual orientation and gender identity. California leads all other states in passing the most comprehensive civil rights laws for the LGBT community.
Founded in 1998, Equality California is a nonprofit, nonpartisan, grassroots-based, statewide advocacy organization whose mission is to ensure the dignity, safety, equality and civil rights of all lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) Californians. Equality California is one of the largest and fastest-growing statewide LGBT organizations in the country. We can be contacted through our website at www.eqca.org.