Sacramento Superior Court Judge Upholds Board of Equalization Rule Protecting Surviving Domestic Partners From Increased Property Taxes

(San Francisco, CA, March 27, 2006) — Last week a Sacramento Superior Court judge upheld 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. California law has long provided this protection for surviving spouses. In 2003, the Board of Equalization adopted a rule giving the same protection to registered domestic partners. In March 2005, Sutter and Orange Counties challenged the rule in state court. 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. Orange County later left the litigation, but Tehama and Madera Counties joined it. In a decision issued last Thursday, the court rejected the counties’ challenge and affirmed the rule.

“This ruling will ensure 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. “California law mandates equal treatment of all families, and we are relieved the court affirmed this sensible, pro-family rule.”

After the lawsuit was filed, the California Legislature codified the Board of Equalization Rule by enacting Senate Bill 565, authored by California State Senator Carole Migden. The bill became effective January 1, 2006. The new court decision confirms that both the Board of Equalization and the Legislature have acted consistently with past practice under Proposition 13, which protects families by limiting property tax reassessment unless property ownership changes. Under Prop 13, the Legislature and the Board may delineate what constitutes a change of ownership among family members, including registered domestic partners.

“We salute Senator Carole Migden and the Board of Equalization, for their efforts to ensure that registered domestic partners have these vital protections,” said Geoff Kors, Executive Director of Equality California, which was a party to the litigation.

“We hope this decision marks the last gasp of the unkind and unsound attacks on legally recognized relationships between same-sex couples in California,” said Jennifer C. Pizer, Senior Counsel in Lambda Legal’s Western Regional Office in Los Angeles. “This decision highlights why it is so important for committed lesbian and gay couples to register their partnerships with the State to ensure they will be treated fairly in times of family crisis, as California’s domestic partnership laws require.”

The case is Strong v. Board of Equalization.

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. We can be contacted through our website at www.lambdalegal.org.

About Equality California 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. We can be contacted through our website at www.eqca.org.