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For gay couples, marriage entwines emotions, rights

SACRAMENTO — Yes, tying the knot gave them a huge emotional lift. But getting married also made practical sense to Paul Curtis and Ray Allen.

Marriage means more than just a ceremony and a certificate, according to legal specialists. It gives couples both gay and straight numerous rights and protections, having to do with everything from parenting to health care.

"It's about being equal in the eyes of the law as well as culturally," said Curtis, of Sacramento, who married his longtime partner in September, during a brief window of opportunity for gay couples in California.

On Tuesday, the California Supreme Court upheld Proposition 8, which defines marriage between a man and a woman, but left the marriages of 18,000 gay couples intact.

Proponents of gay marriage have vowed to put the issue before voters again, possibly as early as next year.

California's domestic partnership law already confers most of the same legal rights on gay couples as heterosexual married people, said professor Lawrence Levine of the McGeorge School of Law. Still, he said, marriage opens doors that domestic partnership does not.

"There is a shared understanding of what the word 'marriage' means in our culture," said Levine. "There is a huge psychic difference between that word and the phrase 'domestic partnership.' "

Even though the latter has legal heft in California, many people are unfamiliar with it, and as a result domestic partners may be denied their rights, Levine said.

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