An attempt by tax officials in California to overturn property tax protections for domestic partners has been halted by the state’s Supreme Court.

The ruling has been hailed as a major victory by gay rights activists.

California’s Court of Appeal had previously affirmed the validity of a Board of Equalisation rule that protects domestic partners from increased property taxes when one of the partners dies and the other inherits the couple’s home.

This protection has been given to surviving heterosexual spouses In California, America’s most populous state, for some time.

The Board of Equalisation is a state agency in charge of fee collections and tax administration.

“We are very pleased with the court’s ruling today, reaffirming that a surviving domestic partner should not lose the family home because he or she must pay taxes that a surviving married spouse does not,” said Equality California executive director Geoff Kors.

“The fact that this lawsuit moved forward in the first place further illustrates the need to grant same-sex couples the ability to marry in California. Then we would not have to waste time and tax-payer money to defend these kinds of very sensible and vital protections.”

Shannon Minter, legal director for the National Centre for Lesbian Rights, said:

“We are grateful to the Board and the Legislature for protecting same-sex couples and their families. Today’s ruling by the Supreme Court ensures that this protection is secure.”