Court upholds groundbreaking California DP law

A state appeals court ruled Monday that California's groundbreaking domestic-partner registry does not violate a voter-approved initiative defining marriage as a union of a man and a woman.

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April 05 2005 11:00 PM ET

California's new
domestic-partner law, which gives registered partners many
of the same rights and protections of marriage, does not
conflict with a voter-approved initiative that defined
marriage as a union of a man and a woman, a state appeals
court ruled Monday. The law, which was signed in 2003 by
former governor Gray Davis and went into effect January 1,
represents the nation's most sweeping recognition of
domestic-partner rights after Vermont's recognition of civil
unions for gay couples. It grants registered couples
virtually every spousal right available under state law
except the ability to file joint income taxes.
The Campaign for California Families, along with the
late state senator Pete Knight, challenged the law, saying
it undermines Proposition 22, the 2000 initiative that
defined marriage as a union of a man and a woman. Knight, a
Republican from Palmdale who died after the suit was filed,
was the author of the measure, which passed with 61% of the
vote. Knight has an openly gay son, David, who caused a
sensation when he married his partner last year at San
Francisco City Hall.
The third district court of appeal on Monday upheld a
trial judge's earlier determination that "the legislature's
enactment of the domestic partners act did not constitute an
amendment of the defense of marriage initiative." The
three-judge panel held that the plain language of the
14-word initiative showed the measure was "intended only to
limit the status of marriage to heterosexual couples and to
prevent the recognition in California of homosexual marriages."
But the initiative didn't express "an intent to
repeal our state's then-existing domestic partners law" or
ban future legislation regarding domestic partners. Marriage
and domestic partnerships are not the same, as illustrated
in the different rights accorded and the process of entering
or ending those relationships, the court said. "This
confirms the commonsense understanding that people in
California have that domestic partnership and marriage are
different," said Jenny Pizer, senior counsel for the gay
rights advocacy group Lambda Legal. "It's also an enormous
relief for registered partners."
In 1999 the state allowed same-sex couples and
couples over 62 years of age to register as domestic
partners. Three years later the passage of AB205, which was
authored by Democratic assemblywoman Jackie Goldberg of Los
Angeles, extended to domestic partners nearly all the rights
of married couples. In September, Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger
signed legislation that requires insurance companies to
offer coverage to registered domestic partners.
Schwarzenegger said last month that he doesn't "believe in
gay marriage" but would not try to amend the state
constitution if the state supreme court rules that a ban on
same-sex marriages is unconstitutional.
A San Francisco County superior court judge ruled
last month that laws limiting marriage to one man and one
woman are unconstitutional, as was Proposition 22, because
it barred the state from recognizing same-sex marriages
performed elsewhere. Both laws violate the civil rights of
gays and lesbians because they "implicate the basic human
right to marry a person of one's choice," Judge Richard
Kramer wrote. The ruling was immediately appealed and will
likely go to the California supreme Court. There are now
about 29,000 couples registered as domestic partners,
according to the secretary of state's office.
Randy Thomasson, executive director of the Campaign
for California Families, said the decision would be
appealed. In addition, he said opponents of same-sex
marriage would move for another initiative that would end
domestic partnerships. "This ruling gives impetus to the
push for a constitutional amendment to protect marriage from
the clutches of judges and politicians," Thomasson said. "If
the bureaucracy will empty marriage of all its value, the
people must override the bureaucracy and protect marriage
rights for a man and a woman, as is only natural and is best
for the children."
The court said supporters of Proposition 22 could
have easily barred the legislature from enacting or
extending domestic-partnership laws by using language
similar to that in other states. In Nebraska an initiative
defining marriage as a union between a man and a woman also
stated that domestic partnerships or civil unions between
same-sex couples would not be valid. (AP)

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