Same-sex couples are one step closer to equal rights with heterosexual couples since Governor Gray Davis signed Assembly Bill 25, the “Domestic Partners Bill” on Oct. 14.

The new legislation, which will take effect on Jan. 1, 2002, does not provide homosexuals with all the rights enjoyed by married heterosexuals but does cover legal areas including unemployment, health care and last will and testament.

Under the new law domestic partners will be allowed to collect unemployment benefits, as spouses currently may, when they voluntarily quit a job to relocate with their partner. They also now have the right to adopt a partner’s child, bequeath property to a domestic partner using the statutory estate, make medical decisions on behalf of and use sick leave to care for an ailing partner.

To qualify, domestic partners must be at least 18 years old, unmarried, unrelated by blood and sharing a residence. With the signing and notarization of a form – available from a county clerk’s office – a gay or lesbian union can be officially recognized as a partnership, a relationship which continues until one partner dies, marries or permanently separates from the common residence.

Assemblywoman Carole Midgen (D-San Francisco) authored the Domestic Partners Bill.

“Midgen is an advocate for equal rights for gays and lesbians,” said Midgen’s chief of staff, Alan LoFaso. “The law discriminates against them by denying them the rights married [heterosexuals] have, and this bill goes a long way to ameliorate this problem by providing some basic rights. Provisions regarding guardianship and health care allow domestic partners to stand in the shoes of the appropriate family member,” he said.

LoFaso said the basic goal of the bill was to help make the legal rights of domestic partners closer to those of a spouse. Previously, the law would not allow individuals to bequeath property to a domestic partner in the same way one could bequeath property to a spouse. Also, whether an individual could be present in the hospital room of an incapacitated partner was at the discretion of hospital staff.

Domestic partners are currently included, in addition to spouses and children, on a statutory will form, and any hospital or health facility is obliged by law to allow access to the hospitalized partner – even over objections by the patient’s biological relatives.

LoFaso also said that the new bill puts California at the forefront regarding legal equality for gays and lesbian unions.

“Vermont and Hawaii have laws which are similar, yet different. California’s are the most expansive [of any state’s laws],” he said.

Although gay and lesbian students at UCSB could potentially meet all of the necessary qualifications for becoming legally recognized domestic partners, formalizing such a relationship may not be an immediate step, said UCSB Associate Dean of Students Joseph Navarro, the chair of Eucalyptus, a task force for gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender affairs at UCSB. However, the new bill does ensure them opportunity to do so in the future.

“I don’t think it would affect too many students [immediately], but we support it because it’s fair,” Navarro said.

Gov. Davis signed the Domestic Partners bill despite opposition from groups including the Committee on Moral Concerns – a Sacramento-based organization which generally fights measures that give gays and lesbians rights as domestic partners. Art Croney, the committee’s executive director, called Davis’ decision “an endorsement of the gay lifestyle,” and said giving homosexuals “special rights” means supporting a cause that promotes unhealthy practices.

“It’s not good to give benefits and acceptance to a lifestyle that has been always considered aberrant. [Homosexuality] is not just a harmless alternative lifestyle,” Croney said. “It’s a philosophical difference. We are not the radicals here.”