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More information sought in marriage case

State high court asks lawyers, fighting over a test of the law barring same-sex unions, about provisions of the domestic-partners law.

June 21, 2007|Maura Dolan | Times Staff Writer

SAN FRANCISCO — The California Supreme Court on Wednesday asked lawyers clashing over same-sex marriage whether the state's domestic-partners law provides all the benefits of marriage, and whether the term "marriage" has special legal significance.

The questions came in a request for supplemental briefings in legal challenges by the city of San Francisco and gay-rights advocates to the state law that limits marriage to a man and a woman. The questions seem to indicate the justices are trying to determine whether the domestic-partners law makes same-sex marriage unnecessary.

San Francisco Chief Deputy City Atty. Therese Stewart, who is representing the city, said the questions showed that the court was "wrestling with the issues."

The court does not ask for additional written arguments in most cases.

"This is a really important case, and they know it is important," Stewart said.

In its first question, the court asked the lawyers to compare the legal rights, benefits and obligations of marriage to those offered to registered domestic partners. "Please list all of the current differences of which you are aware," the order said.

Stewart said the domestic-partners law provides most if not all of the state benefits of marriage, but does not accord same-sex couples "the universal recognition by society of what that relationship means."

The court also asked whether the state Constitution permits the Legislature to call marriage by some other name. And the justices asked lawyers to address the fundamental constitutional "right to marry" and its implications.

Finally, the court asked lawyers to discuss whether a 2000 ballot measure that said marriage only between a woman and a man was valid should be interpreted as prohibiting the state from recognizing same-sex marriages that have occurred in other states or countries, as well as same-sex unions in California.

The court asked for written responses to the questions by July 18. After reviewing the briefs, the court will schedule oral arguments on the case, which will be followed within 90 days by a decision.

State Atty. Gen. Jerry Brown is defending the state's marriage laws. Gareth Lacy, a spokesman for Brown, said the state appreciated the questions and looked forward to responding.

Massachusetts is the only state in the nation that recognizes same-sex marriages.

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maura.dolan@latimes.com

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