Waldlaw Blog

Thursday, May 22, 2008

Appreciating the Small Pleasures In Life

In the midst of all this drama (e.g., the marriage decision, my son's pending graduation from middle school, earthquakes and insane gas prices), it is critical to sometimes slow down and appreciate small pleasures. My family has always enjoyed palindromes. For those unfamiliar with palindromes, they are words or sentences that read the same backwards and forwards. Simple examples: MOM, DAD, RADAR. More complicated examples: "Madam I'm Adam," "Ed is Loopy Poolside," "Ma's story rots, Sam," and "Sad, no Hondas." We LOVE "Wierd Al" Yankovich's palindromic rendition of Bob Dylan's "Subterranean Homesick Blues," available on YouTube, simply titled "Bob." So I cannot express how delighted I was when my charming and talented office manager/legal assistant Dannielle showed up in my office last week to point out something none of us had previously noticed: WALDLAW is a palindrome!! My whole family is tickled. Even my teenage son was impressed. So there you have it. In the midst of chaos, may each of you reading this blog find surprise and delight seeing something that has been in front of you all along in a whole new way. Happy Memorial Day Weekend!

Friday, May 16, 2008

Mixing Politics and Marriage

This morning's San Francisco Chronicle led off with an article about how yesterday's California Supreme Court decision on marriage equality could affect the presidential election. Let me ask my married, heterosexual readers this: was your decision to marry your husband or wife fundamentally a political decision? Was it something that you felt belonged in presidential debates? Did you want to read about it in the newspaper, beyond a tasteful wedding announcement that you may have chosen to place there yourselves? I understand why marriage equality is, at this moment, political. I understand that folks on both "sides" of the issue feel passionate, and need to be heard. But at the same time, I cannot help but wish that same-sex couples could be afforded the same privacy, the same intimacy, about their decisions whether or not to marry that different-sex couples are. And I wish that the presidential election could be about the dangers of recession, the health care crisis, responses to global warming, a seemingly endless war, and not about whether or not the "wrong" people are being allowed to marry their life partners. At the end of the day, don't we have way more important things to talk about??

Thursday, May 15, 2008

The Right to Marry in California

For those of you who haven't already heard, this morning the California Supreme Court ruled that same-sex couples have a constitutional right to marry. Nuptials should start sometime this summer. At its core, this decision is all about family. The Court today rendered a clear ruling that California families -- and especially California families with children -- are entitled to full protection of the law regardless of the sexual orientation of the parents. The majority decision is 121 pages long, with one concurring opinion and two dissenting ones. That's a lot of reading, and I will admit that I haven't even had time yet to carefully digest the majority opinion, so a true, detailed analysis of the decision will have to wait for another day. But let me just share a few highlights. The Court found that the right to marry, as a matter of California constitutional law, includes "the opportunity of an individual to establish -- with the person with whom the individual has chosen to share his or her life -- an officially recognized and protected family possessing mutual rights and responsibilities and entitled to the same respect and dignity accorded a union traditionally designated as marriage." Miraculously, for the lawyers in the house, the Court found that sexual orientation is a suspect classification, and that "the strict scrutiny standard therefore is applicable to statutes that impose differential treatment on the basis of sexual orientation." The Court concluded that "the distinction drawn by the current California statutes between the designation of the family relationship available to opposite-sex couples [marriage] and the designation available to same-sex couples [domestic partnership] impinges upon the fundamental interest of same-sex couples in having their official family relationship accorded dignity and respect equal to that conferred upon the family relationship of opposite-sex couples." The Court, interestingly, adopted as its own the argument put forward by marriage equality proponents, that the two separate designations violate the privacy rights of lesbians and gay men by forcing us to "out" ourselves in various situations where our sexual orientation would otherwise be irrelevant. "[O]ne consequences of the coexistence of two parallel types of familial relationship is that -- in the numerous everyday social, employment, and governmental settings in which an individual is asked whether he or she 'is married or single' -- an individual who is a domestic partner and who accurately responds to the question by disclosing that status will (as a realistic matter) be disclosing his or her homosexual orientation, even if he or she would rather not do so under the circumstances and even if that information is totally irrelevant in the setting in question." In the end, and repeatedly, the Court found that to not allow same-sex couples the right to marry is to dishonor our families -- and to dishonor our children -- in a way that does not befit California in 2008. "While retention of the limitation of marriage to opposite-sex couples is not needed to preserve the rights and benefits of opposite-sex couples, the exclusion of same-sex couples from the designation of marriage works a real and appreciable harm upon same-sex couples and their children." As our Supreme Court made clear today, California is better than that.

Wednesday, May 07, 2008

Is This One Country? Contrasts In Domestic Partnership

Two very different legal decisions on domestic partner benefits hit my computer this morning. In the first, the California Court of Appeal in San Diego (which has been on the cutting edge in its family law rulings for many years) ruled that "a person's reasonable, good faith belief that his or her domestic partnership was validly registered with the California Secretary of State entitles that person to the rights and responsibilities of a registered domestic partner, even if the registration never took place." The case involved a gay male couple who signed and had notarized a Declaration of Domestic Partnership. One of the partners believed in good faith that the other partner had filed the document with the Secretary of State, as required by law for the registration to become valid. He later filed for divorce, and his ex-partner moved to dismiss the divorce petition on the basis that their domestic partnership had never, in fact, been filed. Applying the "putative spouse doctrine" -- which protects "innocent parties who believe they were validly married" from being denied family law protections (such as community property divisions and spousal support) -- the Court of Appeal ruled that the partner who filed for divorce should have the opportunity to establish -- as a factual matter -- that he did, indeed, possess a reasonable and good faith belief that the domestic partnership had been registered. If so, under this ruling, he is entitled to the full benefits and responsibilities afforded registered domestic partners under California law. In stark contrast, the Michigan Supreme Court ruled yesterday in a 5-2 decision that the Michigan Defense of Marriage Act -- which amended the Michigan Constitution to provide that: "To secure and preserve the benefits of marriage for our society and for future generations of children, the union of one man and one woman in marriage shall be the only agreement recognized as a marriage or similar union for any purpose" precludes public employers in Michigan from providing health care and other benefits to the same-sex partners of employees. This means, for example, that the University of Michigan is precluded, as a matter of state constitutional law, from providing health benefits to the same-sex partners of university employees. Unbelievable! These two court decisions -- filed within 24 hours of each other -- graphically illustrate the divide we are seeing between states that are trying to protect gay families and states that remain openly hostile. I have to wonder: will this ever feel like one country again? Or maybe the more honest question is: was this ever really one country?