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California Supreme Court – A Hint at Things to Come?

Timothy Kincaid

January 4th, 2008

Same-sex couples who register for Domestic Partnerships in California receive treatment from the State identical to that of married couples. However, as the term “marriage” is denied same-sex couples, there are social inequities and other cultural and societal limits on same-sex couples.

Twice the legislature has voted to remove gender requirements for marriage and twice the Governor has vetoed the bill, citing questions before the State Supreme Court. Specifically, the Court is being asked 1) whether denying same-sex couples marriage is in violation of the state constitution and, 2) if not, whether a referendum passed by the voters in 2000 prohibits recognition of all gay marriages or only those performed in other states.

The California State Supreme Court has now received all written argument and oral argument, and a determination is predicted within the year. Today the court made a decision that may give us some clues as to how they are thinking on the issue.

In 1978 the voters in the state rebelled against the ever increasing property tax burden and changed the constitution (via Prop 13) to limit the increases in annual taxes and to limit reassessments upon the transfer to property to spouses.

In 2003 the State Board of Equalization decided that Domestic Partners were also entitled to transfer rights of property owned by a their partner. This was encoded into law by the legislature in 2005.

Some county assessors sued, claiming that the legislature could not tinker with propositions and redefine the terms of transfer.

The Third District Court of Appeal in Sacramento disagreed in October, saying neither Prop. 13 nor subsequent measures barred lawmakers from granting additional exemptions to changes in ownership.

The court noted the Legislature’s declaration that the 2005 law was part of an effort to promote equality for all Californians, regardless of sexual orientation.

Today the State Supreme Court let the decision stand. Without comment or a dissenting voice.

There are several important differences between the property tax decision and the marriage question. Yet I think that this does give us a hint of the perspective of the members of the bench and a clue as to whether they will be welcoming of arguments about the limits to which a populace can restrict the rights of a minority and about the inherent equality of same-sex couples.

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