California Ballot Initiative Launched to Get State Out of the Marriage Business

Secretary of State Debra Bowen has approved for circulation a ballot initiative that would effectively get the State of California out of the "marriage" business. Ali Shams and Kaelan Housewright, two heterosexual Southern California college students yesterday submitted a ballot measure initiative with California Attorney General Jerry Brown that would replace the term "marriage" with "domestic partnership" in California law.

Under the rules of the initative, they must collect 694,354 signatures by August 6, 2009 to get it on the ballot.

Here's the text of the initiative:

"The Attorney General of California has prepared the following title and summary of the chief
purpose and points of the proposed measure:

INITIATIVE CONSTITUTIONAL AMENDMENT AND STATUTE. Replaces the term 'marriage' with the term 'domestic partnership' throughout California law, but preserves the
rights provided in marriage. Applies equally to all couples, regardless of sexual orientation.
Repeals the provision in California’s Constitution that states only marriage between a man and a
woman is valid or recognized in California. Summary of estimate by Legislative Analyst and
Director of Finance of fiscal impact on state and local government: This measure would have an
unknown fiscal effect on state and local governments. (09-0003.)"

Under an initiative, Californians can "directly propose and enact state laws and amendments to the California Constitution. Under the initiative process, a proposed statute or constitutional amendment must receive a specified number of valid petition signatures in order to be placed on a statewide ballot for consideration by voters."

Here's the PDF.

Said Shams in a January interview with the Sacramento Bee: "This is a compromise. It says 'Get rid of marriage as a
state institution. Make it a religious institution, keep politics out
of it and stop the fighting.'"


  1. David in Houston says

    This is an interesting idea. Putting straights and gays on a level playing field, and pulling religion out of the equation is great. But I thought the term “civil union” was better than a “domestic partnership”? Or is that just semantics?

  2. Mike says

    This is a non-starter. People won’t vote to take away “marriage” from themselves – especially since they would be giving up the Federal perks.

  3. says

    I doubt that voters will buy this tactic. It’s way too easy for the demagogues to make people think marriage rights will be taken away for everyone.
    The result could be to cement the setbacks that have already taken place.

  4. Kuhnsy says

    This is an awesome idea! If these guys can sell it, CA would have acheived equality and, imo, taken a step toward being the ideal secular government. Unfortunately, Mike is right about people who have state-defined marriage not wanting to give it up. I don’t know the law; would they really lose federal benefits?

  5. Alex says

    Just the point. If voters vote it down, they will be forced to reflect that it means they believe that domestic partnership is not “equal” to marriage.

  6. dbzeag says

    How will that work if you travel to a different state? Say you went travelling and got into an accident. Your “spouse” could not see you because Texas does not have “civil unions” or “domestic partnerships”.

    By Ohio statutes and constitution, no couple in CA would be recognized. The word “marriage” IS the important part, if for nothing else than portability.

  7. coffee&chicory says

    this is the way it should be! marriage is essentially a religious institution! leave that to the churches and let the gov’t give everyone domestic partnerships!

  8. dbzeag says


    No marriage is not religious based. Religions just tacked it on later, but marriages were simply contracts originally between families over spouses and valuables.

  9. says

    Straight people will never give up the word “marriage” (they would be very foolish to do so) which, as Alex says, is the point. If this gets on the ballot and is inevitably voted down, It will be difficult to claim that CUs/DPs are “exactly the same.” The problem is that 1) it’s a lot of distraction for something that’s not going to happen, and 2) it concedes that marriage should belong to religion, which it shouldn’t! Civil marriage is NOT “an essentially religious institution”; in fact, religion has no place in civil marriage. Civil marriage should be a basic civil right for everyone, regardless of sexual orientation. Sanctioning certain marriages via religious ceremonies is the business of the church. Think long and hard before handing marriage over to religious institutions.

  10. Rick B says

    for a long time, this seemed to be the perfect compromise to me….i’d love to see this happen on a federal level as well…i want nothing but to see this push forward, but alas, the religious folks won’t stand for it at all…i wish i lived in CA to help support it!

  11. D.R.H. says

    I think it’s brilliant. It’s a different way of looking at this issue that could make sense for everyone involved. We wouldn’t be losing anything because everyone would be on the same playing field. Of course it won’t happen, because, well, it makes sense.

  12. DKinMIA says

    This is exactly the way it should be. It maintains the separation of church and state because it gets clergy out of acting as agents of the state.

    By the way, other countries do this. In France, to gain the civil benefits, you must be united civilly. Marriage by the church does not afford a couple civil status.

    If people want to enter holy matrimony, they are free to do so according to the dictates of their personal faith. However, all citizens would be afforded equal rights and responsibilities under the civil form of union.

  13. says

    This is perfect.

    If you’re looking for a perfect way to alienate the undecided middle 20% of the electorate and convince them right-wing nuts are actually believable when they say our secret agenda is to “destroy” marriage.

    The average voter thinks in single-sentence talking points. And the talking point for this will be, “Wait, if this passes, then I won’t be married anymore??”

  14. says

    I was out canvassing for marriage equality this weekend. The best moment came when I moved a woman from “undecided” to “supporter,” and a key part of the conversation was asking her, “So what impact would marriage equality have on your own marriage?”

    If we adopted the strategy in this article, she’d be able to answer, “It would eliminate it!”

  15. says

    Whatever you think of this idea, at least these guys thought outside the box. Maybe the ensuing “controversy” will lead to a few of the 5% undecided changing their minds about what marriage traditionally is.

    Marriage is a civil contract. The church should be available to offer blessings to any couple who have registered their legal contract. Otherwise, everyone should have a legal contract and be left alone.

    The church wants to be involved in marriage for one reason, money. The moment they lose control of money, churches are on a slippery slope down to people asking what do they need the churches for. If you don’t need the church for “marriage” Then you can probably read your bible and worship at home. You might even be able to join and donate to non discriminating organizations to help the poor and less fortunate. Hell, parishioners might even be able to start thinking for themselves and get to be friends with that “nice gay couple down the street.”

    These two guys will be more effective than every idiotic California Equality Victom-mercial.

  16. Leland Frances says

    Raving, oozing, noxious, limping, childish, fucking retarded!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

    After the timeless blah, blah, blah about how the young are going to save us with their fresh ideas and energy, I have yet to see ONE that isn’t imbecilic in its conception or impossible in its execution.

    We deserve EQUALITY in EVERYTHING we CHOOSE … and that damn well includes word choice.

  17. CJ says

    What ever happened to the separation of church and state?

    POSTED BY: RICK PECK | MAR 10, 2009 10:34:44 AM

    AMEN. I wish that question would be proposed more often, people might begin to actually think about the issue.

    (side note, not many people know that “In God We Trust” was implemented after Benjamin Franklin and our Forefathers established “In SCIENCE We Trust” – mostly religion married politics in the mid-20th Century, especially with regards to U.S. currency)

  18. Jeffrey says

    The word ‘marriage’ does not belong to the church. Just like they have tried to hijack the words ‘traditional’ and ‘family’
    to mean something narrow and bigoted, they want to claim victory over the term ‘marriage’. Why should we let them have it?
    What we should do is simply take the power away from clergy to administer a state sanctioned contract. Churches can then have whatever voodoo rituals they want under the watchful eyes of their imaginary friend.

  19. Guy says

    This may not be a good move towards equality, but it does highlight the rhetoric about civil unions/domestic partnerships being the same as marriage, which they are not.

  20. Jason Young says

    But we already have the rights to a religious wedding ceremony, it’s called matrimony. There are many churches who will recognize your relationship as a church contract but the government will refuse to uphold that. Marriage is the term for the civil/legal aspect of such a union. Churches will not be required to recognize any union that they do not wish to recognize just as it is today with the Catholic Church and marriage and divorce.

  21. James says

    This isn’t going to work, but is a novel idea.

    For every reason that Prop 8 was NOT a revision, this initiative IS.

    Significantly, Article 2 Section 8 (d) of the Constitution states, “An initiative measure embracing more than one subject may not
    be submitted to the electors or have any effect.”

    This initiative as it is presented will
    1. Alter the Constitution
    2. Repeal the language of Prop 8
    3. Overhaul the Family Code and domestic partnership laws.
    4. Change the Tax Code
    5. Change the Welfare & Institutions Code and probably every other code.
    6. Significantly alter the way the government recognizes relationships due to pre-existing marriages, pre-existing same-same sex marriages, domestic partnerships, and the application of federal benefits to each.

    In short, the initiative encompasses too broad of a range of issues and is doomed to fail. Though it may reach the ballot and be voted on, the section cited above will defeat it easily.

    The effort needs to be broken down into several pieces and resubmitted in several parts as individual initiatives to be successful. Even so, the depth of the changes may be significant enough for the court to rule it is a revision and require the 2/3 Legislature approval.

    More than anything, because this initiative as it is submitted currently is not much more than laughable, it will be regarding by most as sour grapes following Prop 8 and will only create a deeper divide.

    Last, though the effort has the intent of “equality”, it does nothing to give same-sex couples the federal rights that the DOMA obstructs. Even after all these drastic changes the DOMA would still remain.

    Those that continue to fight for same-sex unions should refocus their efforts against the DOMA, the real source of the inequality, and leave the marriage battle alone. Battling marriage state to state is a waste of time and money as long as the DOMA stands.

  22. girl says

    I don’t think that’s right. I’m straight, but whether a man wants to marry a man and a woman wants to marry a woman, why not call it marriage? It’s been called marriage for years, what’s the point in changing it now. It’s still considered marriage whether or not you want to change it. I think it’s ridiculous. Why not get 694,354 signatures by August 6, 2009 to make it not be on the ballot?? Seriously, think about it?? People always have to CHANGE the way things are originally, that’s why we are having to much trouble with the economy. They think that are changing things for the better, but look where everything is taking us?

  23. Todd says

    Completely ignorant idea. Redefining the definition of marriage to placate an aberrant minority is weak-minded folly. The States need to stand behind traditional marriage because it is the bedrock/foundation of our healthy and thriving society. Gays and lesbians need to understand that their behavior is not normal nor healthy and that it has no benefit to society whatsoever.

  24. TANK says

    “The States need to stand behind traditional marriage (polygamy) because it is the bedrock/foundation of our healthy and thriving society.”

    See, this isn’t an argument. An actual founding principle of our society is the separation of church and state, and with that, it’s inconsistent with the government endorsing the religious definition of “traditional marriage” (which doesn’t exist). This is just a claim for which there is no evidence nor argument to support it. Given that the definition of marriage has changed throughout history, the very possibility of scientific (I know that’s probably not the kind of evidence you care about…you know, evidence that isn’t one of pat robertson’s midnight jonas bros. gossip convos with god, or revelation) evidence is undermined completely.

    The bedrock/foundation of our society is pretty shaky, however, if it’s predicated on an “institution” with a well over fifty per cent fail rate. Idiot.

  25. FreakyLocz14 says

    The wording shouldn’t say “regardless of their sexual orientation.” that’s confusing. A man and a woman can marry and the man can technically be gay or the woman can technically be a lesbian or bisexual. It should say “regardless of their genders.”

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