Lambda Legal Assists Gay Orange County Man Whose Domestic Partner Never Registered Their Partnership with the State

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"Without access to marriage, same-sex couples are left with an inferior, confusing system that causes people like our client to fall through the cracks."
March 28, 2007

(Santa Ana, CA, March 28, 2007) — Lambda Legal filed papers today in the California Court of Appeal, 4th District, 3rd Division, seeking the same protections for domestic partners who thought their relationships were registered with the state but were not as California family law provides to people who believed they were married but were not.


“Without access to marriage, same-sex couples are left with an inferior, confusing system that causes people like our client to fall through the cracks,” said Lambda Legal Staff Attorney Tara Borelli, based in the organization’s Western Regional Office in Los Angeles. “In addition to dealing with what amounts to a divorce, people like Darrin Ellis have the additional burden of demonstrating to the state why they should be treated as spouses are when they honestly thought they were married, but for one technical legal reason or another were not.”


Darrin Ellis and David Arriaga were in a committed relationship for five and a half years. On August 14, 2003, Ellis and Arriaga met with their attorney to execute estate planning documents and their Declaration of Domestic Partnership. Arriaga was to send the notarized form to the California Secretary of State's office, and Ellis believed Arriaga had done so. It was not until the relationship ended in 2006 that Arriaga informed Ellis he had never mailed the Declaration of Domestic Partnership to the Secretary of State. Ellis filed a petition for Dissolution of Domestic Partnership (the equivalent to a divorce) on September 8, 2006. On October 24, 2006 Arriaga asked the court to dismiss the petition, arguing that no domestic partnership had been created because he never sent the notarized form to the Secretary of State. The trial court agreed with Arriaga's interpretation of California's domestic partnership law and dismissed the case on February 2, 2007. Lambda Legal is appealing that dismissal.


Borelli noted that people in different-sex relationships who believed they were married and have lived their life as married only to find out later that their marriage was not valid are protected by California's "putative spouse doctrine." Lambda Legal will argue that California law should protect domestic partners similarly, and that the trial court's interpretation of the domestic partnership law raises serious constitutional questions.


"It is both ironic and hurtful that I have to justify my relationship in the eyes of the law at the very time that it is ending and I am trying to move on with my life in as smooth and fair a way as possible," said Ellis. "This double standard under the law couldn't come at a more painful time for me."


Lambda Legal Staff Attorney Tara Borelli is lead counsel on Ellis v. Arriaga. She is assisted by Lambda Legal Senior Counsel Jennifer C. Pizer and co-counsel Reba Birmingham and Audrey Stephanie Loftin of Long Beach Law, Inc., APLC.


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Lisa Hardaway: 212-809-8585 ext. 266; lhardaway@lambdalegal.org.


Lambda Legal is a national organization committed to achieving full recognition of the civil rights of lesbians, gay men, bisexuals, transgender people and those with HIV through impact litigation, education and public policy work..

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