Thursday, June 30, 2005
S.C. Leaves Standing Ruling Favoring Domestic Partnership Law
By KENNETH OFGANG, Staff Writer/Appellate Courts
A Third District Court of Appeal ruling that upheld the state’s expanded domestic partnership law was left standing yesterday by the California Supreme Court.
By a vote of 6-0, the high court denied the Proposition 22 Legal Defense and Educational Fund’s petition for review of the April 4 ruling in Knight v. Superior Court (Schwarzenegger) C048378. Justice Janice Rogers Brown, who leaves the court today following her confirmation as a federal appellate judge in Washington, D.C., was absent and did not vote.
The Proposition 22 fund continued the case following the death of state Sen. William “Pete” Knight, who brought it originally. Knight was the author of Proposition 22, which prohibits legal recognition of same-sex marriages in California.
Knight sought a ruling from the Sacramento Superior Court that Family Code Sec. 297.5, which sets forth the 2003 amendments to the domestic partnership law, amended Proposition 22 without a vote of the people and was thus unconstitutional.
Under pre-Proposition 22 law, registered domestic partners—who must be competent adults, share a common residence in the state, and not be married or in a domestic partnership with anyone else, and must not be related by blood in a way that would prohibit them from marrying, and must be of the same sex unless one of them is over the age of 62 and receiving Social Security benefits—had some of the rights that belonged only to married persons.
Sec. 297.5, however, which took effect Jan. 1 of this year, provides that domestic partners have all of the rights of married persons, except the right to file joint income tax returns or any right limited to married persons by federal law.
Knight argued that any extension of domestic partnership rights beyond those recognized prior to the passage of his initiative was an amendment of the voter-approved measure. But Sacramento Superior Court Judge Loren McMaster rejected the argument, saying that domestic partnership is not “marriage by another name,” and also held that the interpretation urged by Knight and his supporters would probably violate the state Constitution’s equal protection guarantee.
The ruling infuriated conservative groups, who are now gathering signatures for a proposed recall of the trial judge. The signatures are due July 20 and Sacramento Superior Court Judge James Mize, president of the California Judges Association, has called for a mobilization of support for McMaster from judges around the state if the recall qualifies.
Presiding Justice Arthur Scotland, writing for the Court of Appeal, said the trial judge was correct in ruling that marriage and domestic partnerships, even with the expansion of rights under Sec. 297.5, are significantly different and that the latter is not a form of the former.
“[T]he plain, unambiguous language of [Proposition 22] does not state an intent to repeal existing domestic partnership laws or to limit the Legislature’s authority to regulate such unions,” Scotland wrote. The initiative, he continued, “does not state that the Legislature is precluded from expanding the rights and obligations of domestic partnerships or that, henceforth, such relationships will not be recognized or fostered in any fashion.”
The opinion also included an unusual defense, by name, of the trial judge for having ruled as he did.
“Here, the trial judge did not make public policy; rather, Judge Loren McMaster conscientiously applied well-established rules of statutory construction to reach a decision compelled by the law,” the presiding justice wrote. “As he was required to do, Judge McMaster correctly ruled that the Legislature’s enactment of section 297.5 did not constitute an amendment of Proposition 22; that the statute thus became effective without separate approval by the electorate; and, therefore, that section 297.5 is not void.
“...If they feel that the statutory scheme is not wise public policy, petitioners must turn to the Legislature or to the electorate, not the courts, to correct it.”
The opinion was joined by Justices Richard Sims III and Vance Raye. Both Scotland and Raye have been mentioned as possible successors to Brown.
Copyright 2005, Metropolitan News Company