Civil rights are too often conceived as individual rights, but families and couples can be discriminated against as well, and these forms of discrimination are as insidious as any other. In 1967, when the Supreme Court overturned South Carolina's interracial marriage ban, it recognized that marriage was a right and that denying that right on the basis of the partners' respective races was a form of discrimination. When the state grants some families protections and rights, but denies them to an entire other class of families - just as it does in excluding gay and lesbian families from the protections of over 300 state laws and over 1000 federal laws - it both imperils and insults those families. The American Civil Liberties Union is strongly opposed to any such discrimination.

When a partner dies through the negligence or wrongful actions of a third party, his or her grief and loss are no less profound because California law refuses to countenance the meaning or value of their relationship; when a partnership dissolves, the financial and emotional entanglements are no less knotty and difficult to resolve because California's current laws consider the two partners strangers to one another; and when a partner suffers a catastrophic illness, he or she is no less reliant on his or her partner's aid simply because that aid isn't allowed for by the state.

These are just three of three hundred reasons the ACLU/SC strongly supports AB 1338, a bill introduced last Friday by Assemblymember Paul Koretz that would confer on gay and lesbian couples who choose to form a civil union the rights and responsibilities state law now reserves solely for married couples. AB 1338 would move California much closer to the ACLU's ideal of complete equality for gay and lesbian couples: equal marriage rights. The bill would not completely realize that goal, since it would not grant gay and lesbian couples the rights and responsibilities derived from federal laws or recognition of their legal union in other states.

I believe that Californians can come together to support the dignity of every human, the integrity of every family, and the worth of each community. Despite deliberate efforts, for instance, to target communities of color with anti-gay messages and images during the campaign for Proposition 22 last Spring, fully 62% of Latina women voters surveyed, a higher percentage than for any other group, support the concept of civil unions for same-gender couples, and a majority of all California voters - 52% - support legal unions for same-sex couples.

The time has come to answer discrimination unequivocally, to turn back laws that exclude people, and to focus on building a better California together. That's going to take all of us, regardless of race, ethnicity, immigration status, sexual orientation, religious affiliation, sex, or disability, and it will require the strength that we gain from our families. That's why it's so important to build and strengthen families, as AB 1338 does, rather than excluding them or tearing them apart.