LOS ANGELES - The American Civil Liberties Union of Southern California hailed yesterday's expansion of domestic partners' rights, as Governor Gray Davis signed into law AB 25, Assemblymember Carole Migden's proposal to build the rights and responsibilities the state confers on those who register as domestic partners.

"This is a pivotal moment in California's relationship to same-sex couples and their families," said Christopher Calhoun, Deputy Director of Public Policy at the ACLU of Southern California. "The state is clearly on the path to equality for same-sex couples, and there's no turning back."

"No other state in America has made these kinds of strides in recognition of same- sex couples without being forced to do so by a lawsuit," said Calhoun. "That makes California a political leader in recognizing same-sex couples and their families �_ and that makes this new law truly historic."

No other state except Hawaii and Vermont, both of which faced legal challenges from same-sex couples, has offered so many rights to same-sex couples.

The victory on AB 25 was hard-won. Civil rights organizations and lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) community groups throughout the state, led by the ACLU of Southern California, the California Alliance for Pride and Equality (CAPE), and People For the American Way, put together a grassroots campaign to demonstrate the breadth of support in California for expanding domestic partners' rights.

"For the first time in California's history," said Calhoun, "there were more letters, phone calls, e-mails, and faxes in support of an LGBT civil rights bill than in opposition. That's not because the right suddenly stopped opposing equality for LGBT people, but because the LGBT community and its allies mobilized an unprecedented campaign to communicate to legislators and to the Governor their support for AB 25."

Pro-AB 25 activists, co-ordinated by the ACLU/SC and CAPE, attended pride festivals, book festivals, concerts, flea markets, and shopping districts throughout the spring and summer and also organized on-line. Corporate allies Working Assets and PlanetOut helped organize letter and e-mail campaigns.

AB 25 adds numerous rights to California's domestic partner registry, among them:

the right to sue for wrongful death

the right to make medical decisions on behalf of an incapacitated partner

the right to make financial decisions on behalf of an incapacitated partner

the right to adopt a partner's children using the same process stepparents use

the right to relocate with a domestic partner and receive unemployment benefits

the right to use the state's statutory will form

the right of a surviving partner of a state employee to continued health coverage

the right to use dependent health coverage without a state income tax penalty

the right to use sick leave to care for a partner

the right to file for disability benefits on behalf of a partner who is unable to do so

AB 25 also requires insurance companies that make dependent coverage available to include domestic partners and changes the age from 65 to 62 for opposite-sex couples who wish to register.

"Our work on securing equality for same-sex couples is far from finished," said Calhoun. "Even with the passage of AB 25, there are hundreds of rights and responsibilities granted to married couples that are denied to same-sex couples. AB 25 is a big step forward on a long path, but it is not our final destination."