California Same-Sex Marriage FAQ

Answers to common questions

1. What are the requirements for same-sex couples to get married in California?

You and your partner must both go the to the County Clerk/Recorder’s office, provide government-issued identification, proof that you are both over the age of 18* and fill out a marriage license application. (In some counties, the application paperwork can be downloaded online and filled out in advance.) There is no requirement for a blood test or health certificate. You then have the ceremony performed by someone authorized in the state of California (usually a clergy member, minister or judge).

The person who performed the ceremony signs the license, along with one other witness, and this becomes your marriage certificate. This must be returned to the same office where the license was issued to be recorded within ten days of the ceremony.

The marriage license is good for 90 days. License fees vary by county, but are generally under $100. In some county offices, you may be able to have the ceremony performed the same day for an extra charge.

2. Where can we get married in California?

In a word: anywhere. The legal order that halted enforcement of Proposition 8 applies to all state officials throughout California. Therefore, all county clerk offices that issue marriage licenses must accommodate same-sex couples.

3. Who can marry us?

In California, persons who are legally authorized to perform marriage ceremonies include:

  • active and retired state court judges and court commissioners and assistant commissioners;
  • commissioners of civil marriages or retired commissioners of civil marriage;
  • justices or retired justices of the U.S. Supreme Court;
  • judges, magistrate judges, retired judges, or retired magistrate judges of other federal courts;
  • state legislators or constitutional officers of the state;
  • members of Congress who represent a district within this state; and,
  • clergy members.

In addition, a couple can also have a friend deputized to perform their marriage ceremony. Check with the individual county for the requirements for their “Deputy Commissioner for a Day” program.

4. Are marriage licenses public?

Marriage licenses are indeed public records. However, in most cases couples can apply for a “confidential” marriage license in California. Check the county in which you plan on getting your license for the specific requirements for confidential marriage licenses. This is recorded in the county in which the license was issued and is only available to the spouses.

Persons other than the spouses may obtain copies of a confidential marriage license only by getting a court order. The record only indicates that each individual is married; who, when, and where the person married, as well as the person’s address are not publicly available.

5. My partner and I are Registered Domestic Partners. Does this mean we are automatically married?

No. You would need to apply for a marriage license and have a marriage ceremony performed in order to become legally married if you choose to do so in the state of California.

6. Do we have to terminate our domestic partnership before getting married?

No. The rules for domestic partnerships allow an individual to be both married and in a Registered Domestic Partnership, so long as it is to the same person.

7. Are Domestic Partnerships still available if we don’t want to get married?

Yes. Under present California law, Domestic Partnerships still exist and are available for same-sex couples who want them.

8. Domestic partnerships and marriage. Do we need both?

In some cases, it may indeed be legally advantageous to have both a domestic partnership and be legally married as a same-sex couple, especially if you may move to another state. It may also help protect you when traveling in other states or countries. Please consult an attorney or your particular situation.

9. My partner and I got married in another state or country. Do we have to get married again in California?

No. Since the courts found Proposition 8 to be unconstitutional, California law recognizes marriages performed in other jurisdictions.

10. What if we got married before Proposition 8 went into effect? Do we have to get married again?

No. Same-sex marriages performed before Proposition 8 went into effect are legally valid.

11. If one of us is from another country, how will marriage affect that partner’s immigration status?

The repeal of DOMA Section 3 has opened a previously closed path for you or your spouse to apply for permanent resident status (“green card”). Immigration law is very complex, so you should speak with a qualified immigration attorney BEFORE marrying or filing any marriage-based immigration paperwork.

12. We are from another state. Can we get married in California? Will our marriage be valid in our home state?

There are no requirements for residency for marriage in the state of California. However, your marriage may or may not be recognized by your home state depending on the laws of that state.

13. Can same sex couples be refused services for our wedding from private businesses or individual? What about churches and clergy members?

No. It is illegal in California for business establishments that provide goods or services to the public to discriminate on the basis of sexual orientation, gender identity, gender expression or marital status. This applies regardless of the religious beliefs of a business owner or employee. (This protection may not apply to private clubs and other organizations that are members-based that do not serve the general public.)

Conversely, members of the clergy, churches and other religious organizations are NOT required to perform same-sex marriages if they choose not to, although many churches do in fact welcome same-sex couple to marry within that faith.

14. Can we be refused rental housing by a property owner or landlord because of our same-sex marriage?

No. California law bars housing discrimination based on sexual orientation, gender identity, gender expression, and marital status.

15. Can I be denied employment if I’m in a same-sex marriage?

California law prohibits employment discrimination based on sexual orientation, gender identity, gender expression, and marital status. If your potential employer is a religious organization, however, the answer may be more involved. If you believe you have been discriminated against, contact a qualified employment law attorney for advice.

17. Are employers required to provide the same benefits to same-sex spouses as they do to opposite-sex spouses?

No. California law forbids discrimination based on sexual orientation or gender identity. However, as mentioned above, certain exemptions may apply to religious organizations. Check with an attorney if you have any questions.

18. If my partner and I get married, can an adoption or foster agency discriminate against us?

No. California prohibits adoption and foster care agencies from discriminating on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity. If you are considering international adoption, be aware than many countries do not allow gay parents to adopt. Check with a qualified gay adoption attorney for legal advice.

19. What happens if we marry in California and later wish to divorce?

The only way to end a marriage is to legally divorce. In order to divorce in California, at least one of the parties must be a California resident for at least six months, and a resident of the county in which the divorce is filed for three months, before filing the divorce petition.

However, under a law that went into effect January 1, 2012, same-sex couples who married in California but live out-of-state (and, thus, cannot meet California’s normal divorce residency requirement) can still get divorced in California if they live in a state where they cannot divorce. As other states’ laws regarding same-sex marriage are rapidly changing, you should consult with a qualified family law attorney for legal advice.

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