Knight v. Schwarzenegger

Summary

This case involves three separate court proceedings all addressing whether California’s domestic partnership laws are valid in light of Proposition 22, the antigay marriage initiative passed by California voters in March 2000. Proposition 22 denies respect in California to marriages same-sex couples enter into in other states or countries. In September 2003, California’s governor signed AB 205, a bill that expanded California’s domestic partnership laws to provide similar rights and duties as those conferred on spouses through marriage. Within days antigay activists filed lawsuits in Sacramento and Los Angeles claiming that the domestic partnership law was invalid because it supposedly conflicted with Proposition 22. The lawsuits demanded court orders stating that the domestic partnership law was invalid. The Los Angeles lawsuit also attacked an earlier domestic partnership law, which had extended hospital visitation, medical decision-making and a dozen similar rights to domestic partners. Over the next three years, in an important published appellate decision and numerous unpublished decisions, the courts agreed with our analysis — and upheld the domestic partnership laws — appropriately protecting lesbian and gay families at every step.

Context

California was the birthplace of domestic partnership registries, with local governments creating the first ones in the 1980s. The state legislature passed the law to create a state registry — the nation’s first — in 1999. From 1999 through 2003, California enacted more than a dozen laws to protect registered domestic partners. AB 205, a comprehensive rights and responsibilities law for domestic partners took effect on January 1, 2005.

Lambda Legal's Impact

These lawsuits confirmed once and for all that California’s antigay marriage initiative and its domestic partnership laws do not conflict. This means that same-sex couples in California who register as domestic partners are unequivocally entitled to rights and benefits comparable to couples in Vermont, Connecticut and New Jersey who enter into civil unions. It also shows antigay politicians and activists that their mean-spirited attempts on our hard-won rights ultimately will not prevail.

History

  • September 2003 Antigay former California Senator Pete Knight files lawsuit in state court in Sacramento seeking a ruling that AB 205 is invalid.
  • September 2003 Antigay activist Randy Thomasson files a similar lawsuit in state court in Los Angeles attacking both AB 205 and an earlier domestic partner law, AB 25.
  • October 2003 Lambda Legal given permission to participate in the Knight case on behalf of a group of same-sex couples and Equality California, and in the Thomasson case on behalf of Equality California.
  • December 2003 Sacramento court denies Knight’s and Thomasson’s requests for emergency orders invalidating the domestic partnership laws.
  • August 2004 Sacramento trial court hears oral argument on legal motions filed by all parties.
  • September 2004 Trial court rules in our favor, concluding that the domestic partnership laws do not conflict with Proposition 22, the discriminatory marriage initiative.
  • November 2004 The Knight group files a new case directly in the Court of Appeal requesting emergency review of the trial court’s ruling upholding the domestic partnership laws.
  • December 2004 The Court of Appeal agrees to review the trial court’s decision through an expedited process.
  • January 2005 We file brief in the Court of Appeal, arguing why the trial court was correct to uphold the domestic partnership laws.
  • April 2005 The Court of Appeal rules in a published decision that the domestic partnership laws are valid and do not conflict with Proposition 22, the anti-gay marriage initiative.
  • May 2005 The Knight group asks the California Supreme Court to review Court of Appeal’s decision.
  • June 2005 California Supreme Court declines to review Court of Appeal decision, confirming that the comprehensive domestic partnership law is valid and remains in effective.
  • October 2005 Knight group and Thomasson both press appeals of the trial court’s 2004 decision against them in their original cases, despite the Court of Appeal’s April 2005 published decision rejecting their arguments.
  • January 2006 Court of Appeal rules against Thomasson’s appeal, reiterating in an unpublished decision that the domestic partnership laws are valid.
  • March 2006 Thomasson asks California Supreme Court to review the Court of Appeal’s decision against him.
  • March 2006 Court of Appeal rules against the Knight group, reiterating for the third time that AB 205 is sound.
  • April 2006 California Supreme Court refuses to review the Court of Appeal’s decision in Thomasson.
  • April 2006 Knight group allows deadline to pass without asking the California Supreme Court to review the Court of Appeal’s decision against them, yielding to the courts’ unanimous, repeated confirmation that the antigay marriage initiative and the domestic partnership laws do not conflict.

Case Information

Status: Closed
Outcome: Victory

Clients

Daniel Hernandez and Nevin Cohen Plaintiff: Senator William J. Knight, et al.; Defendant-Intervenors: Equality California, Brittany Bouchet and Deven Bouchet, Christopher Caldwell and Richard Lewellyn, Frederick Echeverria and Clinton Oie, Michele Graham-Newlan and Debrah Armitage, Willard Halm and Marcellin Simard, Donna Hitchens and Nancy Davis, Deborah Johnson and Valerie Fiddmont, Christine Kehoe and Julie Warren, Phyllis Lyon and Del Martin, Mina Meyer and Sharon Raphael, William Rogers and John Symons, Kay Smith and Carolyn Confer

Attorneys

Lambda Legal
Jennifer C. Pizer, Jon W. Davidson

Co-counsel/Cooperating Attorneys
David C. Codell, Shannon Minter of National Center for Lesbian Rights, Martha Matthews of ACLU of Southern California, Christine Sun of ACLU of Northern California, Jordan Budd of ACLU of San Diego & Imperial Counties, James Esseks of ACLU Lesbian & Gay Rights Project