A bill that would strike the traditional definition of marriage from California law was approved by the state Senate on Thursday after the U.S. and state supreme courts allowed same-sex unions to resume last year.
SB1306 would remove from the state Family Code language that marriage must be "between a man and a woman." It would substitute gender-neutral language, define marriage as a personal relation arising from a civil contract between two persons, and remove limits on the state recognizing the validity of same-sex marriages performed outside of California.
The bill removes "discriminatory language" from the Family Code and brings state law into compliance with federal and state court decisions allowing same-sex marriages, said Sen. Mark Leno, D-San Francisco.
In June, the U.S. Supreme Court left in place a lower court judge's order striking down as unconstitutional a ballot measure known as Proposition 8, the 2008 voter initiative that outlawed same-sex marriages in California. A 5-4 court majority ruled that the ban's sponsors lacked authority to defend the measure on appeal, though the justices did not directly address the ban's constitutionality.
Marriages resumed in late June after the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals lifted a stay it had imposed on the lower court ruling. The state Supreme Court dismissed a final challenge by the ban's backers in August.
"I cannot bring myself, though, to diminish the words 'husband and wife,' and this clearly does that. Throughout history those words have been widely used and accepted," said Sen. Jim Nielsen, R-Gerber, the only senator to speak in opposition. "They're kind of sacred terms, I would argue, and by this bill we are diminishing those very important words."
The bill was sent to the Assembly on a 25-10 vote, with only Republicans in opposition. Two Republicans, Anthony Cannella of Ceres and Ted Gaines of Roseville, voted in favor.
"All this bill does is bring our Family Code section up to date to comply with those two court decisions," Leno said. He added later: "The sky did not fall, civilization as we know it did not end" when gay marriages began.