Christopher Pratt (cpratt) wrote,
Christopher Pratt

What's the practical difference between being married and being in a California RDP?

I'm glad you asked!

Obviously, with the passage of Prop 8 last Tuesday, there's been a lot of talk about same sex marriage and what the loss of it means to those of us who get married (to same sex partners) when it was possible for a few months earlier this year. Here's a brief rundown of the differences between the two:

Common residency requirements. You don't have to be living with someone else in order to marry them, but if you're planning on entering a California registered domestic partnership (RDP) with them, you have to share at least one residence.

Age. You have be at least 18 years old to enter into a California RDP, but you don't necessarily have to be 18 in order to get married. If you're a minor, you can still get married if you undergo counseling and appear in court with your parents.

Cost. RDPs cost $33. Marriage licenses differ by county. Here in San Diego, they're $50. There are additional costs for both: you need to get a form notarized to enter into a RDP, and you may need to pay someone to solemnize your marriage (the county will do that for $50, or else you can get a friend to become an ordained minister of the Universal Life Church, which is free).

Confidentiality. For a few dollars more, you can get a special kind of marriage license that isn't publicly searchable. However, if you enter into a RDP, anyone can search state records for it and find it.

Breaking up. Although it takes six months minimum to free yourself of an unwanted marriage or RDP, they way you go about doing it is a bit different. If you're in a RDP, it only requires that you file paperwork with the California Secretary of State, which is fairly straightforward. However, getting a divorce isn't so easy. There are residency requirements - at least one of you has to have been living in California for the last six months and in the same county in California for the last three months. Getting a divorce also involves a court action, which is probably going to cost you more than dissolving a RDP.

CalPERS long-term care insurance programs. Long story short, CalPERS is the retirement program for California state employees, and they have a long-term care insurance program that is not available for RDPs thanks to Federal law. Repealing the DOMA would likely reverse this situation.

Veterans property tax exemption. There is an obscure $1,000 property tax exemption for unmarried partners of deceased veterans. However, this is basically irrelevant as the exemption is less than the standard homeowner's exemption - it would make no sense to take this exemption. Unfair? Sure, but irrelevant.

Putative marriage is a legal doctrine that I don't fully understand, but it basically goes like this: If you believe that you are legally and validly married to someone, you still kinda sorta technically are even if it later turns out that you aren't thanks to a technicality. For example, if your wife went MIA in Vietnam and you assumed that she had died and remarried, if she appeared twenty years later, you'd still be married to your second wife, sort of. This doesn't apply to RDPs as there is no legal precedent here.

Federal stuff. The things not mentioned so far - immigration rights, not getting taxed on your partner's health care benefits, spousal privilege - aren't relevant right now because Federal law still explicitly prevents same-sex couples from receiving these benefits.

And that, as far as I understand it, is it. Even if Dan and I are no longer legally married, none of this affects us right now: neither marriage nor a RDP means anything on a Federal level, and the few differences between the two on a state level are not applicable to us. Dan is a veteran, but I won't be taking that tax exemption as it makes no financial sense to do (and he's far from dead yet, at any rate). Neither of us are state employees. We still live in California, so it's not important how easy it is to get divorced (and I'll bet you that that's never going to happen no matter what). We were fine with a publicly searchable RDP, so we didn't bother to get a confidential marriage license.

All in all, no change for us. The reason I'm fighting for marriage equality continues to be a desire for semantic equality - marriage is a human thing, not a religious thing - and of course a desire for equal Federal benefits (I always hated paying taxes on health insurance for Dan). With any luck, Obama and Biden will live up to campaign promises to repeal the DOMA, which makes those goals achievable... if only we can get rid of Prop 8 at the ballot box or otherwise.
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