LOS ANGELES - The American Civil Liberties Union of Southern California praised yesterday's 43-29 vote in the California Assembly approving a bill to provide ten key protections to couples who register as domestic partners with the State of California. The bill, authored by Assemblymember Carole Migden, is supported by a broad coalition of groups in California, including the California Alliance for Pride and Equality (CAPE), the ACLU of Southern California, People For the American Way, the AIDS Healthcare Foundation, and others.

"This vote is an enormous first step toward fairness," said Heather Carrigan, Director of the ACLU of Southern California's Department of Public Policy. "No other state in the nation has taken an equivalent step without the pressure of a lawsuit to force change. California is at the very forefront of political organizing for equal rights for gay and lesbian couples, and the passage of this bill is a clear sign of that progress."

"The rights and protections identified in AB 25 are critical, minimal protections," said Ramona Ripston, Executive Director of the ACLU of Southern California. "We all face losses and challenges in our family lives: the state should never set policy that makes those times more difficult than they already are."

AB 25 will provide domestic partners the right to sue for wrongful death, medical and financial decision-making when one partner is incapacitated, automatic inheritance in the absence of a will, inclusion in the state's simplified, pre-formatted will, the right to use one's sick days to care for a partner, and other similar protections.

Opponents of the bill attempted to influence legislators by taking out attack ads in targeted districts throughout the state. The effort appeared to backfire, as numerous legislators reported in yesterday's debate. The effort targeted legislators who are people of color, under the erroneous impression that communities of color are less likely than white people to support equal rights for gay and lesbian people.

"The right wing's tactics in this case are completely misguided," said Heather Carrigan, Director of Public Policy at the ACLU of Southern California. "Opponents of the bill simply demonstrated their own ignorance and bias when they conducted a campaign based on the stereotype that communities of color are less supportive of equality for gay and lesbian people than white people are. In fact, in polling conducted immediately after the Knight Initiative shows that 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."