Lawsuits Target Expanded Rights for Same-Sex Couples

By Robert B. Bluey | July 7, 2008 | 8:04 PM EDT

( - Defenders of marriage between a man and a woman are taking aim at a law signed last week by California Gov. Gray Davis that gives homosexuals many of the same rights afforded to married couples.

The Arizona-based Alliance Defense Fund filed a lawsuit against the new law Monday and the Florida-based Liberty Counsel is expected to do the same Tuesday. Both organizations claim voters made their views clear three years ago, when they approved a ballot measure stating that "only marriage between a man and a woman is valid or recognized in California."

State Sen. William J. "Pete" Knight (R-Palmdale) sponsored Proposition 22, which won the support of more than 61 percent of Californians in March 2000. With the assistance of the Alliance Defense Fund, Knight is hoping to overturn the new law, which the Democrat governor signed Friday.

Knight said homosexual-friendly lawmakers and their allies ignored the will of the voters by adopting Assembly Bill 205. Even though the domestic partners law doesn't go as far as offering traditional marriage rights, Knight said it offers nearly all of the same privileges.

"Californians overwhelming said, 'We want marriage to be between a man and a woman,'" Knight told "This is something the people, when they understand and are faced with a decision about same-sex marriage, will oppose."

The Liberty Counsel plans a similar suit challenging Assembly Bill 205 (2003-2004 session), as well as Assembly Bill 25 (2001-2002 session), which also gave same-sex couples more rights under the guise of domestic partnerships.

While the lawsuits are similar in nature, each organization decided to take a slightly different approach. But both groups made clear their intentions to defend the traditional view of marriage in a time when legislatures and courts are interpreting laws differently.

Robert Tyler, legal counsel for the Alliance Defense Fund, said fights are brewing in several states, including Massachusetts, where the state supreme court is expected to soon decide whether to legalize homosexual marriage.

The California law, Tyler said, is particularly troublesome because the voters approved Proposition 22 only three years ago. He said the law Davis signed last week contradicts that vote.

"When the voters enact an initiative like Proposition 22, the Legislature cannot override and disregard the will of the people, unless approved by the people," Tyler said. "Proposition 22 prevents the enforcement of [Assembly Bill] 205."

The bill's sponsor, Assemblywoman Jackie Goldberg (D-Los Angeles), dismissed the criticism. She said the state's Office of Legislative Counsel reviewed the language of the bill earlier this year and determined that it wouldn't run afoul of Proposition 22.

Goldberg defended the statute as a means of granting equal rights to same-sex couples. She said it doesn't go as far as offering traditional marriage rights, but it's clearly an improvement.

"Domestic partner bills are all about rights that couples who are married have. That's what it's been about since the first registry was invented," Goldberg told "But it is not marriage because marriage confers automatically 1,041 federal rights. This doesn't do that."

Goldberg added that same-sex couples won't get a marriage license, they cannot file taxes jointly and their partnership isn't recognized outside California. She also noted that when campaigning for Proposition 22, the backers of the initiative stated that the ballot measure wouldn't negatively impact domestic partner benefits.

"They can't have it both ways," Goldberg said. "Californians as a whole - 60 to 70 percent, depending how the question is asked - say they support equal rights in domestic partnerships for those people who are in them. They just are not prepared to have marriages per se."

California isn't alone in stirring debate about expanded rights for same-sex couples. Also on Monday, the Michigan-based Thomas More Law Center filed a lawsuit against the Ann Arbor Public School District for providing insurance benefits to same-sex partners.

The law center's associate counsel, Patrick T. Gillen, said the suit would test Michigan's Defense of Marriage Act, which was adopted in 1996. The law defines a marriage as "inherently a unique relationship between a man and a woman."

By using tax dollars to fund same-sex partner benefits, the school district is circumventing the law, Gillen said. He noted that the law was adopted to prevent such abuses.

"There's no question that it's vitally important to protect these laws, which are on the one hand being passed by the people of given states and then, on the other hand, being assaulted in the courts and undone by judges," Gillen said.

School district spokeswoman Liz Nowland-Margolis said the district hadn't yet been served with the lawsuit. She acknowledged that the benefits were part of a contract mutually agreed to by the school and the teachers' union about three years ago.

See Related Story:
Singles' Group Calls Marriage Benefits 'Discrimination'
(Sept. 23, 2003)

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