Over a year removed from the Supreme Court ruling that made same-sex marriage legal nationwide, Governor Jerry Brown signed a bill on June 5 to broaden the language of California law in accordance with the decision. State Senator Hannah Beth-Jackson’s Senate Bill 1005 will alter the legalese of multiple California code sections to more gender-neutral language.
SB 1005 will change instances of words like “husband” and “wife” to more ambiguous words like “spouse,” said Jackson, since the former two terms are too gender-specific to be applied to same-sex marriages.
The Supreme Court’s decision in Obergefell v. Hodges officially guaranteed marriage equality to same-sex couples in June 2015, but the language of the law had “not caught up,” Jackson said. In this case, she said, the fundamental step was realizing that words matter when it comes to properly recognizing this newfound right.
Jackson introduced SB 1005 on the State Senate floor in April. It passed with a vote of 34-2, receiving bipartisan support among California state senators. Unanimous support was not achievable, Jackson said, because some have not “moved into the 21st century.” She criticized members of the “older generation,” saying the mindsets of certain people need to “move forward.”
“We have a number of our more conservative colleagues who simply don’t want to accept the fact that same-sex couples now have the right to marry,” she said “They can represent their constituencies however they choose. It’s the nature of a democracy to allow for people to vote how they would like.” According to Jackson, however, “cultural values need to adapt” in order to reflect new legal realities.
Equality California, a civil rights organization dedicated to LGBT and social justice activism, sponsored and helped to author SB 1005. Rick Zbur, the organization’s executive director, said the efforts were to better align the statuatory law with the law of the Supreme Court.
According to Zbur, Equality California previously worked with State Senator Mark Leno (D-San Francisco) on a similar bill, which Gov. Brown signed into law in July 2014. The bill, SB 1306, also changed instances of “husband” and “wife” to “spouse,” in the California Family Code. Zbur said he was pleased with Republican support for SB 1005, saying “people are starting to see that marriage doesn’t threaten anyone.”
The organization is currently working to oppose a bill set forth in the House of Representatives. The bill, HR 2802, would protect people or businesses from federal action in the case they made decisions in accordance with religious convictions against same-sex marriage. “We want to protect people from getting married on Friday and being fired on Monday,” Zbur said. The bill, nicknamed the First Amendment Defense Act, was introduced in June 2015 to the House of Representatives. The House has not yet released it to a vote.