A Sacramento Superior Court judge has upheld a Board of Equalisation Rule protecting domestic partners from increased property taxes when one of the partners dies and the other inherits the couple’s home.

In 2003, the Board of Equalisation adopted a rule giving the same protection to registered domestic partners. In March 2005, Sutter and Orange Counties challenged the rule in state court. Represented by NCLR, Lambda Legal, and the law firm of Munger, Tolles Olson LLP, Equality California and three same-sex couples intervened in the litigation to defend the rule.

The court rejected the counties’ challenge and affirmed the rule.

“This ruling will ensure that surviving domestic partners will not lose their homes at the moment they are dealing with the tragedy of having lost their life partners,” said Kate Kendell, National Centre for Lesbian Rights Executive Director.

“California law mandates equal treatment of all families, and we are relieved the court affirmed this sensible, pro-family rule.”

After the lawsuit was filed, the California Legislature codified the Board of Equalisation Rule by enacting Senate Bill 565, authored by California State Senator Carole Migden. The bill came into effect on January 1, 2006.

The new court decision confirms that both the Board of Equalisation and the Legislature have acted consistently with past practice under Proposition 13, which protects families by limiting property tax reassessment unless property ownership changes.

Under Prop 13, the Legislature and the Board may delineate what constitutes a change of ownership among family members, including registered domestic partners.

“We salute Senator Carole Migden and the Board of Equalisation, for their efforts to ensure that registered domestic partners have these vital protections,” said Geoff Kors, Executive Director of Equality California, which was a party to the litigation.

“We hope this decision marks the last gasp of the unkind and unsound attacks on legally recognised relationships between same-sex couples in California,” said Jennifer C. Pizer, Senior Counsel in Lambda Legal’s Western Regional Office in Los Angeles.

“This decision highlights why it is so important for committed lesbian and gay couples to register their partnerships with the State to ensure they will be treated fairly in times of family crisis, as California’s domestic partnership laws require.”

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