Lawsuit Filed Today Seeks Full Marriage for Lesbian and Gay Couples Across California

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"We're seeking marriage beyond San Francisco City Hall, so gay couples all across the state can be treated equally under the law," Lambda Legal says
March 12, 2004

(Los Angeles, Friday, March 12, 2004) — In a lawsuit filed this morning in state court on behalf of six same-sex couples and two organizations, Lambda Legal, the National Center for Lesbian Rights and the ACLU are seeking the right for same-sex couples to marry throughout California. Today's filing comes less than 24 hours after the state Supreme Court ordered a temporary pause on same-sex couples marrying in San Francisco — in a ruling that also said legal action to win the right marry could proceed.

“As long as gay couples cannot marry, they are not treated equally under the law,” said Jennifer C. Pizer, Senior Staff Attorney in Lambda Legal's Western Regional Office in Los Angeles. “We're seeking marriage beyond San Francisco City Hall, so gay couples all across the state can be treated equally under the law.”

The lawsuit argues that denying marriage to same-sex couples violates the state Constitution, which guarantees equality, liberty and privacy for all Californians. The case seeks a court order that state officials comply with the California Constitution's equality and liberty guarantees in their application and enforcement of the state’s marriage laws, which could come within 30 days.

Pizer said today’s case seeks “full marriage for gay couples statewide — nothing more and nothing less.” While the case filed today moves forward, Lambda Legal, NCLR and the ACLU will continue representing other couples who have already married in San Francisco or who want to marry in San Francisco, and the state Supreme Court is expected to hear arguments in that case in a couple of months. In addition to the couples, Equality California (the statewide lesbian and gay political advocacy organization) is a plaintiff in both cases on behalf of its members around the state, along with Our Families Coalition (a San Francisco-based family group).

“Lesbian and gay couples have been shut out of hundreds of rights, protections and responsibilities for too long. Over the last month, the nation has looked to California and seen that when loving gay couples get married, nobody is harmed. The marriages in San Francisco have ignited a nationwide dialogue about fairness. Today’s case is part of a long and proud tradition of California leading the nation on civil rights progress,” said Pizer.

Today’s case is the third state lawsuit Lambda Legal has filed in one week seeking the right to marry for same-sex couples. Last Friday, Lambda Legal filed a case seeking full marriage for same-sex couples in New York State, and on Monday Lambda Legal and the Northwest Women's Law Center filed a lawsuit seeking marriage for gay and lesbian couples in Washington State. Pizer is Lambda Legal’s lead attorney on that case.

Five of the six couples named as plaintiffs in today’s lawsuit had appointments to be married in San Francisco but were turned away after the state Supreme Court’s order yesterday afternoon. The other one was intending to marry as soon as they could get a license. The couples include:

Lancy Woo, 37, and Cristy Chung, 40, who have been together for 16 years and live in San Francisco with their five-year-old daughter Olivia. Lancy owns a dog grooming business and is the primary wage earner for the family, while Cristy stays at home with Olivia. They want to get married to ensure that their family will be protected should anything happen to either one of them.

Joshua Rymer, 47, and Timothy Frazer, 41, who are both successful businessmen who split their time between San Francisco and Sonoma. They have been together for 10 years and are registered domestic partners in California. The couple holds joint title on their property and has taken a number of other steps to protect their relationship, including drafting wills and other documents. But they understand that there are many rights and protections that can be obtained only through marriage, including the right of a spouse to inherit the other spouse's 401(k) account without incurring a tax penalty, the right to community property and the right to bereavement leave for the death of a spouse.

Jewell Gomez, 55, and Diane Sabin, 51, who have been together for 11 years. They make their home in San Francisco. They are registered domestic partners in California. Jewell works for the San Francisco Arts Commission and Diane is a chiropractor. When Jewell recently had surgery, the couple had to return home after leaving for the hospital to get all of their documents to ensure that Diane would be able to make medical decisions for Jewell should it be necessary.

Myra Beals, 61, and Ida Matson, 68, who have been together for 27 years and live in Mendocino. They are registered domestic partners in California. As they age, insurance and health care become increasingly important — things that would be more secure if they were married. Throughout her years working for the Santa Clara County Transportation Agency, Ida paid into the California Public Employees Retirement System. Unlike married spouses, however, Myra will not be entitled to Ida's retirement funds if Ida predeceases her. Accordingly, Myra and Ida have had to spend $3,311.00 per year for additional life insurance on Ida so that Myra will not be destitute if Ida should die first.

Arthur Adams and Devin Baker, both 39 years old, who have been together for over three years. They are registered domestic partners in California and make their home in Mountain View. Arthur and Devin were in the process of completing an application for a marriage license when they were informed that no further marriage licenses would be issued to same-sex couples.

Jeanne Rizzo, 57, and Pali Cooper, 48, , who are registered domestic partners in California. They arrived in San Francisco at the appointed time to be married with 50 friends and family in tow but were denied after the court order late Thursday. The couple would like to retire in the Northwest at some point in the next few years; however, they are afraid to do so because they are fearful that their rights as domestic partners may not be honored if they move outside of California.

The case is Woo, et al. v. Lockyer, et al. In addition to Pizer, Jon Davidson in Lambda Legal's Western Regional Office is handling the case. Other attorneys on the case include: Courtney Joslin and Shannon Minter at lead counsel the National Center for Lesbian Rights; Tamara Lange and Alan Schlosser at the ACLU of Northern California; Martha Matthews at the ACLU of Southern California; Stephen Bomse, Richard DeNatale and Hillary Ware at Heller Ehrman White and McAuliffe; Dena Narbaitz and Clyde Wadsworth at Steefel Levitt and Weiss; and David Codell and Aimee Dudovitz at the Law Office of David Codell.


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