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Foes of Partner Law File Suit

A state senator and others contend that the expansion of rights for gay couples 'subverts' a 2000 initiative on marriage.

September 23, 2003|Nancy Vogel | Times Staff Writer

SACRAMENTO — Three days after Gov. Gray Davis signed a bill to greatly expand the rights and responsibilities of domestic partners, a Republican senator and a Christian legal group sued Monday to block the new law from taking effect.

Sen. William "Pete" Knight (R-Palmdale) and the Alliance Defense Fund, an Arizona organization that says it's dedicated to defending traditional family values, sued in Sacramento County Superior Court to nullify AB 205.

Davis signed the bill into law Friday before a jubilant crowd at a community center in San Francisco's predominantly gay Castro District.

The law, authored by Assemblywoman Jackie Goldberg (D-Los Angeles), gives same-sex and heterosexual couples who register with the California secretary of state as domestic partners many of the same protections and duties now bestowed on spouses. It grants, for example, the right to make funeral arrangements for a partner, and get child custody or financial support after a partnership ends.

Knight argues that the law "subverts" Proposition 22, a March 2000 initiative that he helped write.

The measure, approved by more than 60% of voters, declares that only marriage between a man and a woman is valid in California. The state Constitution requires another vote to amend or overturn an approved initiative, Knight said, yet voters were given no say on AB 205.

"We're here to defend the will of the people as California's embattled governor once again demonstrated that he is out of touch by signing legislation that violates Proposition 22," said Knight in a news conference on the Capitol steps with Alliance Defense Fund attorney Robert H. Tyler.

The lawsuit asks a judge to block enforcement of the law, which takes effect in January 2005.

A hearing has been set Oct. 15, Tyler said.

Geoffrey Kors, executive director for Equality California, a statewide gay and lesbian rights group that sponsored Goldberg's bill, predicted that Knight's lawsuit will be dismissed by a judge.

He noted that the legislative counsel's office concluded in March that AB 205 does not amend Proposition 22 and therefore does not require a statewide vote. Kors also noted that three years ago, the proponents of Proposition 22 assured voters that the simple, 14-word amendment to the state family code would not affect the hospital visitation and inheritance rights already granted to domestic partners.

"The argument from the extreme right is that what they told the voters to get the Knight initiative passed was really a lie," Kors said.

Knight called AB 205 a big expansion of the protections given domestic partners three years ago.

"At the time of Prop. 22, there were certain rights established," he said. "We said, 'That's fine, we just don't want to go any further and develop same-sex marriage.'

"The homosexual community has established the definition of families as loving and committed relationship," Knight said. "When you change that definition, it opens the breadbox to a host of other types of families. I don't think that we should allow that kind of choice."

A former U.S. Air Force test pilot who has served in the Legislature since 1992, Knight has infuriated gay rights groups by asking the state Department of Veterans Affairs to remove a small granite paving stone in the park surrounding the Capitol. The plaque was installed last month near a monument to veterans. The stone reads, "In Honor of Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual and Transgender Veterans Killed in Action."

"In our opinion," wrote Knight last month to Secretary of Veterans Affairs K. Maurice Johannessen in a letter signed by 32 Republican lawmakers, "this latest paver is entirely inappropriate as it establishes homosexual vets as a special class, worthy of special honor."

Department spokesman Andrew Kotch said there are no plans to remove the marker. Private donations paid the $400 cost of installing it, he said.

Kors called Knight's attempt to remove the marker "truly offensive."

"That's just another outrage that people who fought and died for their country should be ignored because of some members of the Legislature's homophobia," he said.

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