The Effect of Prop 8 on California Employment Law

Winter 2009Newsletters California Update - Employment Law

Printer Friendly

The passage of Proposition 8 (amending the California Constitution to define marriage exclusively as a union between a man and a woman) leaves many questions unanswered. One question on the minds of California employers is the extent to which the Proposition will affect the employment relationship. For the reasons discussed below, constitutional and civil rights issues aside, it is unlikely that Proposition 8 will have a practical impact on an employer's obligation to provide certain rights and benefits to employees in same-sex domestic partnerships.

Proposition 8 was initiated in response to the May 2008 California Supreme Court Decision in In Re Marriage Cases, 43 Cal. 4th 757 (2008). In that decision, the Court held that laws prohibiting same-sex marriage violate the equal protection and inalienable rights provisions of the California Constitution.The ruling went into effect in June 2008. Following this decision, religious groups opposed to gay marriage collaborated to add Proposition 8 to the November ballot.The Proposition, referred to as the California Marriage Protection Act, proposed an amendment to the California Constitution that limited marriage to opposite-sex couples. On November 5, 2008, 52.5 percent of California voters approved the Proposition.

While legal challenges to this Proposition were immediately filed, and as the legal fate of same-sex marriage hangs in the balance, many employers are left wondering how these issues affect their obligations under California employment law. Fortunately, this may be one area left unaffected by the same-sex marriage debate.The reason is simple: the majority of benefits and rights afforded to California employees arise under the California Domestic Partners Act (CDPA), which was unaffected by Proposition 8. The CDPA provides that:"Registered domestic partners shall have the same rights, protections, and benefits…as are granted to and imposed upon spouses." As it pertains to the employment relationship, employers are prohibited from discriminating against employees who are in same-sex domestic partnerships. It also affords such employees equal right to employee benefits, which include but are not limited to: medical insurance, public pension plans, life insurance and various employment benefits, such as membership discounts, travel discounts and the payment of relocation expenses.

Overall, the best advice for California employers is to continue to remain compliant with the CDPA and equally distribute employee benefits to employees who are in a registered domestic partnership. In the end, the CDPA remains the touchstone for determining an employer's obligation to its employees under California law.