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    A More Equal 2014

    I always take stock of what I’m grateful for around the holidays. After having completed my first year as a member of the state legislature, the list of things for which I am thankful this year is a bit different because my position as a lawmaker enables me to change California in new ways on issues that I care about.

    Fighting for civil rights is what inspired me to enter politics. So, I am especially grateful for this year’s victories for equality because they will make next year the most equal year ever for LGBT Californians. That’s a comforting and exciting thought to bring in the New Year.

    Although the year’s most dramatic breakthroughs came with the United States Supreme Court overturning Proposition 8 and the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) last June, a series of new state laws taking effect next year will help LGBT Californians of all ages be who they are and live their lives. Altogether, they provide for greater, life-changing LGBT equality in taxation, health care, education and gender identity.

    Let me explain.

    Even though same sex couples in California can finally choose marriage and have it recognized by the feds, our tax policy was penalizing them for being unable to marry. Until DOMA was overturned, employer-provided health insurance benefits for unmarried same sex partners and children were subject to federal income tax. And, progressive employers – like Facebook, Google, Bank of America, Microsoft, and Time Warner – started reimbursing these employees the amount of these unfair federal taxes. The rub is that these reimbursements from LGBT-supportive employers are subject to state income tax.

    Talk about taxing the victim. This outrageous situation motivated me to change state law and I did when Governor Jerry Brown signed my Assembly Bill 362 a couple of months ago. It exempts from state tax the value of these employer reimbursements for five years. This will provide same sex couples a window of time to transition to marriage, now that this is a choice available to them, and do so when they are ready.

    Continuing with health care, another new law requires the administrators of senior care facilities to receive training about the needs of LGBT seniors and their families. We created this law to help end the indignity faced by aging LGBT rights pioneers who have gone back into the closet upon entering a care facility for fear of discrimination. All seniors deserve to be treated in a respectful manner while receiving the care they need, especially by institutional providers caring for seniors unable to care for themselves or those seniors who need moderate assistance with daily living and medical services. This new law will help induce tolerance among care centers from the top down.

    We also passed two laws to help transgender Californians live according to their gender identity.

    California will soon have an easier, far less expensive system for transgender Californians to change their name and obtain a birth certificate that conforms to their gender identity. Until now, a person seeking a name change had to publish a public notice in a newspaper for four weeks and then petition a court to grant the name change if no one files a written objection. That system is both expensive and invasive of privacy. Starting next year, for transgender Californians, the newspaper publication requirement is repealed and courts will be required to grant a name change if no one files an objection with the court. In addition, transgender people will no longer need to obtain a court order to change a birth certificate.

    Finally, California will help ensure that the rights of transgender youth are protected at school. Authored by my colleague from San Francisco, Assemblyman Tom Ammiano, the new law requires schools to integrate transgender youth into every aspect of schooling according to their gender identity. That means all students in K-12 schools must be permitted to participate in school programs and activities, like athletic teams, and use school bathrooms and locker rooms according to gender identity. This will really help parents and students understand their rights while ensuring that schools are not creating stressful and even humiliating challenges for transgender youth at school.

    Some of this year’s victories for LGBT equality have been years in the making. All of them are cause for cheer, celebration, and hope for the future. These deep-seated feelings are an inspiring way to begin the New Year and a new push to expand equality even more in California.

    Happy Holidays.

    Phil Ting (D-San Francisco) represents the 19th Assembly District in the California State Assembly, which includes portions of San Francisco and South San Francisco as well as Daly City and Colma.