(San Francisco, CA, September 8, 2004) — Today, Sacramento Superior Court Judge Loren E. McMaster held that the new expanded domestic partnership law – A.B. 205 – is valid. The ruling arose in the context of two lawsuits, one filed by the late Senator Pete Knight and the other by the Campaign for California Families (CCF), arguing that the new law violates Proposition 22, the ballot initiative approved by the voters in 2000.
“The ruling today is a victory for the tens of thousands of California families headed by lesbian or gay couples in committed relationships who will finally have access to most, but not all, of the rights and protections available to married couples under state law,” stated Geoffrey Kors, Executive Director of Equality California. “While this is a great victory, it is not equality. Only when California ends marriage discrimination will these families be able to access the over 1000 rights and benefits that are only available to married couples.”
When the expanded domestic partnership law goes into effect on January 1, 2005, it will significantly increase the state law rights and duties that come with domestic partnerships. The new law is much closer to equality for same-sex couples.
“We are gratified that the Court made the common sense ruling that while important, a comprehensive domestic partnership scheme is not equivalent to marriage and, therefore, does not violate Prop 22,” said NCLR Executive Director Kate Kendell. “No matter how you slice it, domestic partnership is not marriage.”
The Court explained that there is nothing in the language of Proposition 22 that “restrict[s] the grant of rights and benefits to persons who have registered as domestic partners, even if those rights closely parallel the rights enjoyed by married couples.” In its decision, the Court made clear that although the new domestic partnership law provides many new rights and responsibilities to registered domestic partners, registered domestic partnerships are still not the same as or equal to marriage. As the Court explained, “While ‘marriage’ consists of rights and duties, the institution is not solely defined by those components.”
“We are extremely relieved by the Court’s decision today,” said Johnny Symons and William Rogers, one of the 12 couples who intervened in the lawsuit to defend the new domestic partnership law. “As parents, we are doing everything in our power to protect our two young children. But without the protections in AB 205, our family will not have the same security as other families.”
Earlier this year, 12 California couples who are registered domestic partners and Equality California (EQCA), the statewide lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender advocacy organization and AB 205’s sponsor, entered into the lawsuits filed by Knight and CCF that sought to take away basic protections from same-sex couples and their families. In addition to being represented by the National Center for Lesbian Rights, the couples are also represented by the Law Office of David C. Codell in Los Angeles, the American Civil Liberties Union, the ACLU affiliates in Northern California, Southern California and San Diego, and Lambda Legal.
The couples participating in the lawsuit include a member of the state legislature, state court judges, a filmmaker, a schoolteacher, retirees and a clergy member.
“We are very pleased that the Court upheld the Legislature’s constitutional power to protect all of California’s families. The Court correctly ruled that granting legal protections to gay and lesbian couples doesn’t make them married,” said David Codell, lead attorney for the intervenors.
When it goes into effect on January 1, 2005, A.B. 205 will provide registered domestic partners in California with many additional basic protections and responsibilities including: community property, mutual responsibility for debt, parenting rights and obligations such as custody and support, and the ability to claim a partner’s body after death. The law does not allow for joint tax filing and certain other protections under state law, and does not provide access to over 1,000 federal protections that married couples enjoy.
Founded in 1998, Equality California is a nonprofit, nonpartisan, grassroots-based, statewide advocacy organization whose mission is to ensure the dignity, safety, equality and civil rights of all lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) Californians. Equality California is one of the largest and fastest growing statewide LGBTQ organizations in the country.
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.