California governor Gray Davis, who faces a recall election as early as 7 October, has signed a bill to give same-sex couples some of the rights of married couples.

But the bill will need to survive a legal challenge launched by conservative state senator Pete Knight.

Bill AB 205 expands a domestic partnerships bill Davis signed in 1999. The expansion gives same-sex couples new rights including legal access to the Family Court, the right to not testify against a same-sex partner and the right to make funeral arrangements for a dead partner.

Gay.com reported Knight, in lodging the lawsuit, called the bill unconstitutional and suggested it ignored the opinions of most Californians -“ that marriage should only exist between a man and a woman. And the bill would force the state of California to promote unnatural family units that are not in the best interest of our children, he said.

Davis, who has been campaigning in the famously gay Castro district in San Francisco, said he signed off on the bill because of his belief in social justice.

The San Francisco Chronicle reported Davis told a meeting of gay supporters he believed a family [was] a family because of values like commitment, trust and love.

Gay LA Democrat Jackie Goldberg wrote the bill. She said while the bill stopped short of equality for same-sex couples, it was an important start, the Chronicle reported.

We really should not have to be going through all of this domestic partner business. We should have our relationships recognised as marriage. But that’s not where we are yet, Goldberg said.

The bill has been welcomed by US gay and lesbian rights advocates as an important step.

The October recall election could see Davis lose his position to actor Arnold Schwarzenegger.

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