Judge Upholds Law Expanding Domestic Partner Benefits, Including Health Benefits
Sacramento County Superior Court Judge Loren McMaster on Wednesday ruled that a law (AB 205) that will give registered domestic partners most of the health coverage and other benefits the state grants to married couples does not violate Proposition 22, a ballot measure approved by California voters in 2000 that defines marriage as a union between a woman and a man, the San Francisco Chronicle reports (Egelko, San Francisco Chronicle, 9/9).
Opponents of the law, including Proposition 22 Legal Defense and Education Fund and the Campaign for California Families, filed lawsuits to prevent implementation, the Los Angeles Times reports (Romney, Los Angeles Times, 9/9).
Former Gov. Gray Davis (D) last year signed AB 205, expanding on legislation passed in 2001 that allows same-sex couples to register as domestic partners and share benefits, such as health insurance and hospital visitation rights. The law, which will take effect in January 2005, allows same-sex couples to take family leave to care for a sick partner, receive a partner's workers' compensation benefits and grant consent for an autopsy or for organ donation.
The law also requires cities and counties to provide health insurance to domestic partners if those same benefits are offered to heterosexual domestic partners. However, it does not extend to same-sex couples rights involving family leave, Medicare, Social Security or veterans' benefits guaranteed to married couples by federal law (California Healthline, 9/23/03).
McMaster ruled that Proposition 22 refers only to marriage and not to domestic partnerships or civil unions. He said a law allowing same-sex couples to marry would require voter approval. McMaster added that although he was not ruling on the validity of the law, the state constitution seems to grant same-sex couples the same rights as married couples (San Francisco Chronicle, 9/9).
In his decision, McMaster wrote, "The Legislature has taken nothing away from what was enacted by the people. 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."
Jon Davidson -- an attorney for Lambda Legal -- which helped draft the legislation, said, "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."
Attorney General Bill Lockyer (D) in a statement said the ruling was "good news." He added, "[I]f proponents of Proposition 22 wanted voters to deny certain benefits to couples who register as domestic partners, they should have said so" (Los Angeles Times, 9/9).
Christine Sun, an attorney for the American Civil Liberties Union, called the ruling a "great decision" but added, "Even if domestic partners have the same bundle of rights, it is still not the same as marriage, which has social recognition and acceptability" (Coronado, Sacramento Bee, 9/9).
CCF Executive Director Randy Thomasson said, "Judge McMaster should be recalled. 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" (Los Angeles Times, 9/9/).
According to the Chronicle, the ruling likely will be appealed and could go to the state Supreme Court (San Francisco Chronicle, 9/9).