California is seen as one of the most liberal states in the U.S. in regard to lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender (LGBT) rights, which have received nationwide recognition since the 1970s. Same-sex sexual activity has been legal in the state since 1976. Discrimination protections regarding sexual orientation and gender identity or expression were adopted statewide in 2003. Transgender people are also permitted to change their legal gender on official documents without any medical interventions, and mental health providers are prohibited from engaging in conversion therapy on minors.

California became the first state in the U.S. to legalize domestic partnerships between same-sex couples in 1999. Same-sex marriage was legalized in 2008 for five months until voters approved a ban in November of the same year. After the U.S. Supreme Court refused to recognize the legal standing of same-sex marriage opponents on June 26, 2013, the ban was no longer enforceable, allowing same-sex marriages to recommence starting on June 28. Same-sex adoption has also been legal statewide since 2003, permitting stepchild adoption and joint adoption between same-sex couples.

In 2014, California became the first state in the U.S. to officially ban the use of gay panic and transgender panic defenses in murder trials. Public schools are also required to teach about the history of the LGBT community and transgender students are allowed to choose the appropriate restroom or sports team that match their gender identity. Most support for LGBT rights can be seen in the largest cities, such as Los Angeles, San Diego, and San Francisco, as well as many cities on the Pacific coast. A 2017 survey from the Public Religion Research Institute showed that 66% of Californians supported same-sex marriage.

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