- The Washington Times - Sunday, March 27, 2005

SACRAMENTO, Calif. (AP) — A California law that gives homosexual couples who register as domestic partners nearly the same responsibilities and benefits as married spouses should be overturned because lawmakers undermined the will of voters, attorneys for two groups argued Friday.

The law, which went into effect Jan. 1, grants registered couples virtually every spousal right available under state law except the ability to file joint income taxes. That includes access to divorce courts, automatic parental status and responsibility for each other’s debts.

The law represents the nation’s most sweeping recognition of domestic-partner rights after Vermont’s recognition of civil unions for homosexual couples. New Jersey and Maine also have domestic-partner registries.

Opponents of the law told a three-judge appeals court panel that the law violates a state ballot initiative that defined marriage as between a man and a woman. Supporters said the law was unrelated to the ballot measure. Proposition 22 passed five years ago with 61 percent support.

“What it does is, it undermines Proposition 22,” said Robert Tyler, attorney for the Proposition 22 Legal Defense and Education Fund.

Mr. Tyler and an attorney for the Campaign for California Families argued that Proposition 22’s victory in 2000 not only defined marriage, but implicitly barred lawmakers from granting marriage-style benefits to domestic partners.

The 3rd District Court of Appeal did not indicate when it would rule. The court previously rejected requests to prevent the law from taking effect during the appeal.

“The voters of the state are entitled to get what they voted on. No more and no less,” said Deputy Attorney General Kathleen Lynch in defense of the domestic-partners law. “How would a voter know they were going to vote on more?”

The three justices repeatedly noted the simplicity of the 14-word ballot measure, saying it said nothing about rights of domestic partners nor the Legislature’s ability to grant them.

Presiding Justice Arthur Scotland said the appeals court typically interprets laws based on plain meaning. “If it’s plain meaning, we use the plain meaning and stop there,” he said.

The case comes in the wake of a San Francisco County Superior Court judge ruling last week that struck down Proposition 22 and California’s ban on homosexual “marriage,” saying both laws violated the civil rights of homosexuals to marry whom they chose.

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