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California assembly passes marriage bill restoring gender-neutral language

[JURIST] The California State Assembly voted 42-34 Tuesday to approve the Religious Freedom and Civil Marriage Protection Act [AB 43 text; procedural history] which would restore California's marriage statute to its pre-1977 gender-neutral language and define marriage as "a personal relation arising out of a civil contract between two persons" capable of giving consent and issued a license by authorized officials and institutions. The bill also states that "no priest, minister, or rabbi of any religious denomination" or any official of any "nonprofit religious institution" may be forced to perform marriages.

The bill, which was approved by Democrats and opposed by Republicans, will head to the California State Senate [official website], where it is expected to be approved. It will only become law if Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger [official website] signs the bill. In 2005, Schwarzenegger vetoed [JURIST report] a similar bill that sought to legal same-sex marriages in California [JURIST report]. A spokesperson for Schwarzenegger said that the governor has not changed his mind on the issue, and believes that Californians have demonstrated their objection to same-sex marriage [JURIST news archive] by approving the so-called Defense of Marriage Act [Proposition 22, text], a ballot initiative approved in 2000 that limits marriage to unions between a man and a woman. Currently, Massachusetts is the only state that has legalized same-sex marriages [JURIST report]. Other states, including California, Connecticut, Maine, Vermont, and Washington now permit civil unions or domestic partnerships. Oregon and New Hampshire [JURIST reports] will allow same-sex couples to enter into contractual domestic partnerships and civil unions beginning in January 2008. The San Francisco Chronicle has more.

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