California Same-Sex Marriage FAQ

Same Sex Marriage in California FAQ | Pride Legal

Answers to common questions

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

Under California law, same-sex couples follow exactly the same steps to marry as opposite-sex couples. First, the couple must go to the County Clerk/Recorder’s office and receive a marriage license. Second, a ceremony must be performed by a person authorized to solemnize marriages in California. The authorized person must sign the marriage license along with one witness. Here is the process in detail:
First, the couple must go the to the County Clerk/Recorder’s office together. Each person must provide government-issued ID and proof that each are both over the age of 18. The couple will fill out a marriage license application. In most counties, you can download the application and fill it out in advance. It is not required to be a California resident. A blood test or health certificate is not required. Upon receiving the marriage license, it will be valid for 90 days. License fees vary by county, but are generally under $100.
Second, a marriage ceremony must be performed within 90 days by an authorized person who can solemnize a marriage. The marriage license must be signed by the authorized person who performed the marriage ceremony. One other witness must also sign the marriage license. The document must be filed at the same office where the license was issued to be recorded within ten days of the ceremony. 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. 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.
Further, a couple can also have a friend deputized to perform their marriage ceremony. Check with the specific 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. Check the specific requirements for confidential marriage licenses with each county. The confidential marriage certificate will be recorded in the county in which the license was issued. It will only be available to each spouse.
Persons other than the spouses may get a copy of a confidential marriage license only through 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 follow the steps above to become legally married in California.

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

No. California law permits two people to be both in a domestic partnerships and married. This is 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 California law, Domestic Partnerships still exist and are available for same-sex couples.

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

In some cases, it may provide a legal advantage to have a legal domestic partnership and legal marriage. As a same-sex couple, it may help if you 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. 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. California law recognizes marriages performed in other jurisdictions. Same-sex marriages performed before Proposition 8 took 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. Thus, it is important to speak with an experienced immigration attorney. Especially 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?

Yes. Every state must recognize same-sex marriages. This has been federal law since the Obergefell decision of the United States Supreme Court.

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

No. California regulates business establishments that provide goods or services to the public. Under California law, it is illegal for such businesses 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. Yet, such protections may not apply to private clubs and organizations that are member-based and do not serve the general public.
The exemption applies to members of the clergy, churches, and other religious organizations. They are NOT required to perform same-sex marriages. But, there are many churches that welcome same-sex couples 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 prohibits 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?

No. California law prohibits employment discrimination based on sexual orientation, gender identity, gender expression, and marital status. However, the answer may be more involved if your potential employer is a religious organization. If you believe that you faced discrimination, contact a Pride Legal employment attorney for advice.

16. 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. As mentioned above, certain exemptions may apply to religious organizations. Check with an attorney if you have any questions.

17. 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 that many countries do not allow same-sex parents to adopt. Check with a qualified gay adoption attorney for legal advice.

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

The only way to end a marriage is to legally divorce. To divorce in California, at least one party must be a California resident for at least six months. They must also be a resident of the county in which the divorce is filed in for three months before filing.
However, same-sex couples who married in California, but live out-of-state, can get a divorce without being a resident. This law was designed for same-sex couples who live in a state where they cannot get a divorce. The laws on same-sex marriage are evolving. Feel free to consult with a Pride Legal Divorce Attorney for legal advice.

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