A historic bill awarding virtually all the rights of marriage to homosexual “domestic partners” narrowly passed the California state Assembly late this afternoon.

Requiring 41 votes, AB 205 passed 41-29, with 10 members not voting. Democrat supporters expressed surprise as the outcome became apparent.

Speaker Christine Kehoe, D-San Diego

“Amazing,” said Assembly Speaker pro Tempore Christine Kehoe, a lesbian and co-author of the bill.

Pro-family groups that lobbied hard against the bill charged it would subvert the will of Californians who overwhelmingly approved the Protection of Marriage Initiative in March 2000, reserving marriage rights for a man and a woman only.

“People need to rise up” in response to today’s vote, said Karen England, director of policy for the Capital Resource Institute, a non-profit group in Sacramento.

“We get these notes all the time from voters, asking, ‘What about the will of the people?'” England told WorldNetDaily. “We thought this issue was decided.”

Democrat Mark Leno of San Francisco, who identified himself as one of four homosexual Assembly members, argued during the floor debate that while voters passed the marriage initiative, opinion polls showed a majority of Californians favor equal rights for long-term domestic partners.

England discounted the significance of the polls.

“The only poll I count is the one at the ballot box,” she said. “And [the people] were clear on that poll.”

Mark Leno, D-San Francisco

In his remarks from the floor, Leno insisted the bill is a civil-rights issue with personal implications.

“The four of us, unlike anyone else in this chamber, are second-class citizens,” he said. “Our most cherished and honored relationships are not respected in the law.”

The bill now goes to the state’s Democrat-controlled Senate, where England expects it to pass. The spotlight then would be on Gov. Gray Davis, who is facing a strong recall campaign.

“This battle could and should have been won,” said Randy Thomasson, executive director of Campaign for California Families, in a statement after today’s vote. “Although we fought hard on the outside, the inside game at the state capitol faltered and protecting marriage was not the priority that it should have been.”

Beyond California

Homosexual activist groups have said the bill’s impact would resonate beyond California.

“This law would be truly historic for the nation,” said Geoff Kors, executive director of California Alliance for Pride and Equality, according to the San Jose Mercury News. “If California passes this, it sends a message to the rest of the nation.”

While there is no legal basis for same-sex marriage in the U.S., the idea is gaining traction culturally. Last week, CBS television promoted the debut of “The Amazing Race 4” by proclaiming a male homosexual couple on the show to be married to each other.

The closest the U.S. has come to same-sex marriage is Vermont’s civil-union law, a legal registration providing the same benefits and rights as married couples. The Netherlands and Belgium are the only countries that treat a same-sex couple’s relationship exactly as one between a man and a woman.

AB 205, unlike civil unions, would not require a marriage-like ceremony in court, and the relationship could be ended without the same court process as divorce. Instead, it would expand the state’s existing domestic partnership program, which offers limited legal rights to more than 18,000 couples registered with the secretary of state.

Thirty-seven states have passed laws that bar them from honoring same-sex marriage from another jurisdiction. However, in Massachusetts and New Jersey homosexual couples have filed lawsuits, and some analysts believe if a marriage license were issued in one of those states, it would have to be recognized in all others under the U.S. Constitution’s “Full Faith and Credit Clause.”

Canada appears to be headed toward instituting homosexual marriage after a law defining marriage as a male-female bond was struck down as discriminatory by three provincial court decisions.

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