appellate court this week upheld a vital provision that
protects registered domestic partners from property tax
reappraisal when their partners die or transfer real
district court of appeal came out strongly in favor of
same-sex couples in a unanimous three-judge decision
famous for 1978's Proposition 13, which freezes property
tax assessment at a home's purchase price as long as there
is no change in ownership. "Change of ownership," in
turn, was eventually defined to exclude transfer among
spouses, parents and children, and grandparents and
grandchildren. These exceptions were enacted by the
state legislature and ratified by voters in two separate
constitutional amendments, protecting the named
parties from losing their homes if suddenly faced with
double or triple their annual taxes.
Back in 2003, the
five-member California Board of Equalization, which
governs tax policy in the state, voted to add registered
domestic partners to those protected against new taxes
during a "change of ownership."
It was no
coincidence that the board was led by Carole Migden, a
veteran California lesbian politician, now a state
senator from San Francisco and the original author of
the law creating the Golden State's
decision did not sit well with certain county assessors, who
challenged the policy as a violation of the state
constitution in 2005. That year, while the suit was
still pending, the California legislature put the
policy into law, passing a bill effective in January 2006.
In their suit, the assessors argued that the
legislature had no power to codify a policy that was
unconstitutionally put into place from the start.
domestic partners, a court in 2006 ruled that the board and
the legislature were indeed authorized to expand the tax
exclusion to protect them as well.
Led by Sutter
County assessor Mike Strong, the bureaucrats appealed up
the ladder to the third district court of appeal, which
responded with Tuesday's ruling.
The gist of the
dispute revolved around whether another constitutional
amendment was required in order to add domestic
partners to the list of protected relationships.
And to simplify the court's response, the answer was
no. The previous amendments defined several classes of
exempt transfers. They did not limit the list, nor did
they tie the hands of the board or the legislature.
In an 18-page
decision, the court also recognized that the lawmakers
acted, in their words, "to guarantee equality for all
Californians, regardless of gender or sexual
orientation, and to further the state's interests in
protecting Californians from the potentially severe economic
and social consequences of abandonment, separation, the
death of a partner, and other life crises."
This, said the
court, proved that the tax policy was not arbitrary but
supported by a clearly legitimate state interest.
Center for Lesbian Rights, which along with Lambda Legal
stood up for the law, enthusiastically praised the decision,
as did Equality California.
But Strong was
outraged. "This ruling is completely untenable,"
Strong told the local press. "We are considering options as
to our next course of action."
The ruling can be
appealed to the California supreme court, which is not
obligated to take the case. (Ann Rostow, Gay.com)