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Court upholds
groundbreaking California DP law

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.

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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