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Judge Backs Partner Rights Law

The sweeping measure doesn't conflict with Prop. 22, which says marriage must be between a man and a woman, a jurist rules.

September 09, 2004|Lee Romney | Times Staff Writer

SAN FRANCISCO — A Sacramento County Superior Court judge upheld the state's sweeping domestic partners law Wednesday, ruling that it does not conflict with a voter-approved proposition that limits the recognition of marriage to heterosexual couples.

The law, approved last year with the passage of AB 205, grants most of the same state rights to registered domestic partners that are bestowed by marriage, although the couples receive no federal benefits and cannot file joint state tax returns.

Two conservative organizations, the Campaign for California Families and the Proposition 22 Legal Defense and Education Fund, had challenged the law, arguing that it was "marriage under a different name" and therefore violated the successful 2000 ballot initiative championed by former state Sen. William J. "Pete" Knight (R-Palmdale), who died in May.

But Judge Loren E. McMaster disagreed.

"The Legislature has taken nothing away from what was enacted by the people," he wrote. "Simply because the Legislature deemed it to be in the best interest of the state of California to give domestic partners rights that are substantially the same as those enjoyed by persons who are married does not change the definition of marriage."

Wednesday's ruling means the benefits and obligations bestowed by the law, with respect to property, child custody and arrangements after death, will go into effect in January as planned.

"This is the most sweeping domestic partnership law in the country and it's going to make an incredible difference in the lives of those who register," said Jon Davidson, an attorney for the gay rights group Lambda Legal who helped draft the legislation.

Opponents vowed an appeal.

"Judge McMaster should be recalled," said Randy Thomasson, executive director of Campaign for California Families.

"He has trashed the vote of the people who said they want everything about marriage to stay for a man and a woman. The plain and clear reading of these marriage-attacking bills was to create homosexual marriage by another name," Thomasson said.

Andrew Pugno, Knight's former chief of staff and chief counsel for the group formed to defend Proposition 22, added: "What Sen. Knight wanted most of all was for the voters to have the final say on what marriage means.... I am sure [he] would be frustrated at the idea of the Legislature being able to do what the voters prohibited by simply playing games with words."

Proposition 22, approved by a wide majority in 2000, limited the recognition of marriage to being between a man and a woman.

Its chief aim was to ensure that same-sex marriages -- if granted in other states -- would not be valid here.

The groups filed suit after Gov. Gray Davis signed AB 205 -- drafted by Assemblywoman Jackie Goldberg (D-Los Angeles) -- into law in his final months in office.

The consolidated suits initially named Davis and the gay rights group Equality California, but were later amended to replace Davis with Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger.

In a statement, Atty. Gen. Bill Lockyer called the ruling "good news.... As we argued in court, if proponents of Proposition 22 wanted voters to deny certain benefits to couples who register as domestic partners, they should have said so."

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