Continued Attacks on Domestic Partner Protections Illustrate Need for Marriage to Secure Equal Benefits for Same-Sex Couples


(San Francisco, CA, September 19, 2007) — Today the California Court of Appeal heard oral arguments in a lawsuit challenging a Board of Equalization rule protecting domestic partners from increased property taxes when one of the partners dies and the other inherits the couple’s home.

In briefs submitted to the court in February, attorneys defending the board rule argued that the Board of Equalization and the Legislature have the authority to protect domestic partners from property tax increases.

The case began in 2005 when assessors from Orange and Sutter counties filed a lawsuit challenging the 2003 Board of Equalization rule. Orange County later left the lawsuit, but Tehama and Madera counties joined in. In 2006, Sacramento Superior Court Judge Jack Sapunor rejected the challenge and upheld the rule. The assessors appealed, and the case is now before the Third District of the California Court of Appeal. Represented by NCLR, Lambda Legal, and the law firm of Munger, Tolles & Olson LLP, Equality California and three same-sex couples intervened in the litigation to defend the rule.

After the lawsuit was filed, the California Legislature codified the Board of Equalization rule by enacting Senate Bill 565, authored by California State Sen. Carole Migden, D-San Francisco. The bill became effective January 1, 2006.

“This rule simply ensures that surviving domestic partners will not lose their homes at the moment they are dealing with the tragedy of having lost their life partners,” said Kate Kendell, National Center for Lesbian Rights Executive Director. “The fact that government officials would attack such a basic protection for same-sex couples is shameful and dramatically illustrates the need to permit such couples to marry. Only with marriage will same-sex couples have the same level of security and protection that other families take for granted.”

“This case highlights the pitfalls a two-tier system presents for same-sex couples,” said Brian Chase, Senior Staff Attorney in Lambda Legal’s Western Regional Office. “This lawsuit is a misguided attack on protections that make the law more equal and keep people in their homes. Unable to marry, California’s gay and lesbian couples too often are left exposed to the whims and confusion of local officials and their mistaken interpretations of the law.”

Before adjourning last week, the California Legislature passed a bill that would grant full marriage rights to lesbian and gay couples. The Religious Freedom and Civil Marriage Protection Act (Assembly Bill 43), authored by Assemblymember Mark Leno, D-San Francisco, would change the California Family Code to make civil marriage a contract between two people. It would leave intact Proposition 22, the ballot initiative passed by voters in 2000 that prohibits California from recognizing same-sex marriages performed out-of-state. AB 43 would also protect religious freedom by reaffirming the right of religious institutions to choose whether or not they solemnize marriages between same-sex couples. Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger, who said this week he will veto the bill, has until October 14 to take action on the legislation.

“Countless California families have gone far too long without the full protections, benefits and respect they were promised when California’s domestic partnership registry was established,” said EQCA Executive Director Geoff Kors. “The fact that some same-sex couples have lost their homes simply due to the death of a partner shows that domestic partnerships fall way short of marriage. The California Legislature has, for the second time, affirmed that fact, by passing AB 43. Until we secure marriage for all loving and committed couples, taxpayer dollars will continue to be utilized for lawsuits like this as we work to achieve full equality for all Californians.”

The case is Strong v. Board of Equalization. Dan Powell from Munger, Tolles & Olson LLP argued the case on behalf of EQCA and three same-sex couples.

The National Center for Lesbian Rights is a national legal organization committed to advancing the civil and human rights of lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender people and their families through litigation, public policy advocacy, and public education.

Lambda Legal is a national organization committed to achieving full recognition of the civil rights of lesbians, gay men, bisexuals, transgender people and those with HIV through impact litigation, education and public policy work.

Equality California Founded in 1998, Equality California celebrates its 10th anniversary in 2008, commemorating a decade of building a state of equality in California. EQCA is a nonprofit, nonpartisan, grassroots-based, statewide advocacy organization whose mission is to achieve equality and civil rights of all lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) Californians. http://www.eqca.org/