Governor Schwarzenegger last night signed a law that makes California recognize gay marriages performed out of state.

All same sex couples married out of state at any time will have all the rights of married straight couples in the state. But the law tries to play it both ways when it comes to what to call these relationships.

Couples married before November 5, 2008 (the day Proposition 8 banned gay marriage in the state): they'll called spouses and their relationships will be called “marriages.”

Couples married after November 5, 2008: they won't be called spouses and their relationship will be called “domestic partnerships.”

What a mess!

Dan Smith reported this morning in the Sacramento Bee why the law treats out of state marriages differently based on when they took place:

In a signing message, Schwarzenegger said California will not recognize the couples as married but will “provide the same legal protections that would otherwise be available to couples that enter into civil unions or domestic partnerships out-of-state. In short, this measure honors the will of the People in enacting Proposition 8 while providing important protections to those unions legally entered into in other states.”

Gay marriage law is already hard to understand because different states plus the federal government have differing laws covering same sex relationships. California's law now means that same sex couples may not even be governed the same within a single state.

Names are legally significant when it comes to same sex relationship rights. Don't be surprised if the set of rights that a California gay couple married out of state has depends on whether their relationship is actually called a marriage.

[Cross-posted at the Gay Couples Law Blog, which discusses same sex family law, estate planning, and taxes.

Gideon Alper

Gideon Alper