City of San Jose sued for recognizing same-sex marriages
May 15 2004 12:00 AM ET
The Christian legal group Alliance Defense Fund filed a lawsuit on Thursday against the mayor of San Jose, Calif., and the city council over their decision to recognize the same-sex marriages of gay municipal employees who wed elsewhere. The Arizona-based legal group said the San Jose city council's March 9 vote, designed to provide expanded health and retirement benefits to the partners and children of gay city workers, violated California's Proposition 22, which holds that only marriages between a man and a woman are valid in the state. "A city is a local unit of government that has to obey state law," said Alliance Defense Fund lawyer Jordan Lorence. "Even though they have their own employees and have home rule authority to pay their employees and set their benefits, they can't do it in violation of state law."
ADF filed the lawsuit on behalf of the San Jose-based Values Advocacy Council and the Proposition 22 Legal Defense and Education Fund, a group that has mounted other legal challenges to what it views as efforts to circumvent the 2000 ballot measure. The lawsuit was entered on the same day funeral services were held for the group's founder, the late Sen. William J. "Pete" Knight, who died last Friday.
San Jose became the first city in California to recognize same-sex marriages performed elsewhere amid the frenzy of San Francisco's issuance of marriage licenses to gay couples. The city has 274 employees registered as domestic partners with the state, but only 49 of them are in same-sex relationships, said David Vossbrink, a spokesman for San Jose mayor Ron Gonzales. "This is a matter of the city's employee benefits policy, and that is fully within our authority as an employer to provide benefits to our employees," Vossbrink said, adding that city attorneys had not yet seen the ADF lawsuit. According to Vossbrink, Gonzales plans to present city council members next with a proposal to provide municipal workers in opposite-sex domestic partnerships the same expanded benefits that have been offered to gay workers with freshly minted marriage licenses.
Andrew Pugno, general counsel for the Proposition 22 Legal Defense and Education Fund, said the group's three remaining directors--conservative activists Doug Swardstrom, Dana Cody, and Natalie Williams--had not decided who would take over as president after Knight. Rob Stutzman, Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger's communications director, was on the board but resigned when he went to work for the governor. "The existing board of directors has every intention of continuing the work the organization was started to do," Pugno said. "Senator Knight would be disappointed if we were to drop the issue." Besides the lawsuit against San Jose, the Proposition 22 fund has sued the city of San Francisco to overturn the nearly 4,000 marriages performed there earlier this year, and it has a lawsuit against the state government seeking to prevent a law granting virtually all spousal rights to domestic partners from taking effect in January.