Gays and lesbians
won a major legal victory when the California supreme
court let stand a new law granting registered domestic
partners many of the same rights and protections of
heterosexual marriage. Without comment Wednesday, the
unanimous justices upheld appellate and trial court
rulings that the sweeping measure does not conflict with a
voter-approved initiative defining marriage as a union
between a man and a woman.
The domestic-partner law, signed in 2003 by
then-governor Gray Davis, represents the nation's most
comprehensive recognition of gay domestic rights,
short of the legalization of gay marriage in Massachusetts
and civil unions in Vermont and Connecticut. The law,
which went into effect January 1, grants registered
couples virtually every spousal right available under
state law except the ability to file joint income taxes.
Groups opposing the law said Wednesday they hope
to qualify a ballot measure asking voters to overturn
the justices' decision and perhaps to bar gay and
lesbian couples from ever getting married in California.
"Certainly, this reflects the importance of the people of
California rising up to ensure that their vote in 2000
is counted and not overlooked by the courts," said
Robert Tyler, an attorney with the Alliance Defense
Fund, which asked the justices to overturn the law.
The Campaign for California Families, along with
the late state senator Pete Knight, originally
challenged the law, saying it undermines Proposition
22, the 2000 initiative that defined marriage as the
union of a man and a woman. Knight, a Republican from
Palmdale who died after the suit was filed, was the
author of that measure, which passed with 61% of the vote.
Kate Kendell, executive director of the National
Center for Lesbian Rights, said the "antigay
industry's" reaction to the decision means "they won't
stop until essentially the existence of lesbians and
gay men is eradicated."
Wednesday's ruling by California's six
participating justices, the final arbitrators of state
law, upheld an April decision by the third district
court of appeal in Sacramento, which had ruled that
Proposition 22's language is clearly limited to
"marriage." By 1999, California had already begun
allowing same-sex couples and couples older than 62
years of age to register as domestic partners, and
Proposition 22 didn't express "an intent to repeal our
state's then-existing domestic partners law" or ban
future legislation regarding domestic partners, the
appeals court held.
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, for example, an
initiative defining marriage as the union of a
man and a woman also stated that domestic partnerships
or civil unions of same-sex couples would not be
valid, the appeals court noted. "We're extremely pleased,"
said Nathan Barankin, a spokesman for Atty.
Gen. Bill Lockyer, who urged the justices to
uphold the domestic-partner law. "We fought hard to
protect California's landmark domestic-partner law and
believe the trial court and the appellate court and
the California supreme court reached the exact and
Proposed ballot measures banning same-sex
marriage and domestic-partner benefits were received
last month by Lockyer's office and are awaiting the
assignment of a ballot title and summary by the
attorney general. The measures could appear on the
June 2006 ballot.
Peter Henderson of the California Family Council
said his group is among a coalition of other groups
spearheading the ballot box drive. "This decision is
why we believe the initiative process is so important, to
give voters a direct say through direct democracy on issues
of this importance," he said.
The proposed ballot measures are also aimed at a
March ruling from a San Francisco County superior
court judge who ruled that Proposition 22 and other
California laws limiting marriage to unions between one man
and one woman were unconstitutional. Such 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. That ruling,
which was stayed, is on appeal to the San Francisco-based
first district court of appeal and is pending. Justice
Janice Rogers Brown, who leaves Thursday to join the
U.S. court of appeals for the District of Columbia,
did not vote. (AP)