In CA, Domestic Partnerships Decline as Marriage Soars
California domestic partnerships dipped during the second half of 2013 compared to the same time period in 2012, as the demand for marriage licenses has increased since decisions by the U.S. Supreme Court in late June led state officials to offer federally recognized same-sex marriages.
According to data provided to the Bay Area Reporter by the office of Secretary of State Debra Bowen, whose staff oversees the state’s domestic partnership registry, from July through December 2012, there were 2,592 new domestic partnership declarations in California.
From July through November 2013 there were 1,055 new domestic partnership declarations in California. Should the state record the 400 domestic partnership declarations it typically does during the month of December, it would still mark a significant decrease this year since same-sex couples gained the right to wed compared to the same time period last year.
According to the California Department of Public Health, which tallies the number of marriage license applications issued throughout the Golden State, in July this year there were 30,799 applications versus the 22,749 issued during July 2012. Due to a lag time in receiving marriage license application data from the state’s 58 counties, the state health agency has yet to report the totals for the remaining months of 2013.
The state does not record information on the gender of the married couples, so it is not known how many of the licenses were obtained by same-sex couples, said agency spokesman Matt Conens.
"Note that demographic data, including gender and ethnicity, are not captured on the marriage records and are therefore not available for analysis or display," Conens told the B.A.R.
Nicole Winger, a spokeswoman for Bowen, told the B.A.R. that the majority of the domestic partnership filings with the state office are from same-sex couples. But the office can’t pinpoint the resumption of same-sex marriages in California since June 28 as the reason for the decrease it has seen this fall in DP filings.
"We don’t analyze data trends at the secretary of state’s office," said Winger. "There are so many factors that go into a couple’s decision to register as a domestic partner. We can’t draw a straight line between the numbers."
Marriage equality advocates, however, do attribute the dip in DP numbers to the court’s rulings in June, which on a technicality overturned California’s ban against same-sex marriage known as Proposition 8 and, in a separate case, struck down a portion of the federal Defense of Marriage Act that paved the way for federal rights to be granted to married same-sex couples.
"The fact that the domestic partnership numbers would be diminished now that marriage is available as an option to same-sex couples is utterly unsurprising," said Kate Kendell, the executive director of the National Center for Lesbian Rights. "I think many couples who choose to make a legal commitment are willing and wish to have that commitment be marriage for a number of reasons."
At the same time, Kendell said it is important that domestic partner registries at the state, county, or city level remain in place as not every couple wants to or is ready to marry but does want to access the heath benefits and other rights that come with being registered domestic partners.
"Even as I understand the emotional, social, and practical reasons for a couple choosing marriage over domestic partnership, I think it is enormously important to fight for domestic partnerships to be an available option," said Kendell. "So when we have heard of states eliminating domestic partnerships, or companies eliminating benefits for domestic partners, I think that is a mistake."
San Francisco couple Nicholas Marley, 26, and Jeremiah Crank, 33, opted to become domestic partners in late July to be able to add Crank to Marley’s employer-provided health insurance. Together nearly two years, and having lived together for the past year, entering into a domestic partnership "made more sense," said Marley, at this point in their relationship.
"We decided we are definitely committed but I didn’t think we were ready to do the whole marriage thing," added Marley. "This was marriage-lite. It seemed fitting to where we were at in our relationship."
They were among the 262 domestic partnerships filed with the San Francisco county clerk between June 28 and December 12. It was a slight decline from the 310 domestic partnerships filed with the clerk between July 1 and December 31 in 2012.
Unlike with the state DP registry, which is limited to any same-sex couple 18 years of age or older or to heterosexual couples where one person is 62 and receiving Social Security benefits, San Francisco’s local DP registry is open to any couple no matter their sexual orientation who is 18 years of age living together and providing for one another.
Due to that, the clerk’s office expects new DP numbers for the year will remain relatively stable at around 600 per year going forward.
"There are couples not quite ready to take that plunge into marriage," said county clerk Karen Hong Yee, "and find domestic partnership accomplishes" gaining some protections.
Spurred on by DOMA case
John Lewis, with Marriage Equality USA, said he has been somewhat surprised by the increasing number of same-sex couples who have been in domestic partnerships or civil unions who are now deciding to marry.
"We all knew that the DOMA case was very important. But what I hadn’t quite realized was how the victory in the DOMA case was going to spur so many more people to get married," said Lewis. "For same-sex couples who might have just stayed in a domestic partnership, in respect to state rights, it gave them a powerful additional reason to get married because under federal law a state-sanctioned domestic partnership or civil union will not provide the couple with the same protections as being married."
That was what spurred Oakland couple Luis Hernandez and Luciano Hernandez, domestic partners for the past 13 years, to wed under the Rotunda at San Francisco’s City Hall last Friday, December 13.