More Than Just a Piece of Paper

Ellen DeGeneres and Portia deRossi are among those planning to get married.

ByABC News
May 15, 2008, 4:48 PM

May 16, 2008— -- For all practical purposes, the only real change that yesterday's court decision means for California's gay couples is an official piece of paper and a legal ceremony.

After all, under the state's domestic partnership laws, same-sex couples already enjoy all the legal rights and protections enjoyed by opposite-sex couples.

But for hundreds of thousands of same-sex couples in the state, today's state Supreme Court decision to strike down the ban on gay marriage was a historic and transformative moment.

"It changes everything," said Rick Jacobs, founder and chairman of the Courage Campaign, a progressive political organization. "What it says is that same-sex couples are first-class citizens like everyone else, that there is no question that everyone has equal rights."

Jacobs has talked to several gay couples who were already planning to get married as soon as possible.

Among those planning on wedding bells are talk show host Ellen DeGeneres and her companions Portia deRossi, of "Ally McBeal" and "Nip/Tuck" fame. DeGeneres announced their plans during the taping of her show Thursday after the court ruling was made public. The show is expected to air today.

When she was visiting the state capital last week, Torrie Osborn had a good feeling about the impending decision after she ran into Chief Justice Ron George.

"He said to me, "Oh, you wrote that beautiful piece in The New York Times," about her marriage to her former partner in San Francisco in 2004. It was compelling and thoughtful,'" said Osborn, the former director of the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force. "Based on that, I was cautiously optimistic," she said.

"For years, I didn't think it really mattered. But I went from skeptic to supporter -- domestic partnership is separate but equal. And now this decision creates liberty and equality."

But there are important limitations to the new legal status of gay Californians.

The decision does not change the law in other states or federal law.

And under the federal Defense of Marriage Act, which was passed in 1996, gay couples will still be denied more than 1,000 federal rights and benefits, including Social Security benefits, the ability to file a joint federal tax return and the right to petition for a spouse to immigrate.