Domestic partners have many rights, but couples push for equality

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Like many empty nesters, San Franciscans Jeanne Rizzo and Palli Cooper like to work in their garden, hike on the weekends and dote on their son in graduate school.

“We’re boring,” Rizzo, a former nightclub owner, said, laughing about her domestic life.

But while their home and work lives might look familiar to millions of other Californians, Rizzo and Cooper’s love life is at the center of a major political debate raging throughout the nation and the state.

On Thursday, the California Appeals Court ruled in a 2-1 decision that California’s ban on gay marriage does not violate the constitutional rights of gays and lesbians. The ruling came in response to six lawsuits challenging or opposing the right for same-sex marriage.

Rizzo and Cooper were plaintiffs in one of the challenging suits.

“I was struck early on in the ruling by the statement that we were asking the court for a new right. I’ve always thought of this as a long-denied basic right, not something new,” Rizzo said.

She and Cooper, like many other couples throughout the state, are domestic partners. Under California law, domestic partners have some of the same rights as married couples, such as hospital visitation and stepparent adoption. They cannot, however, file taxes jointly, emigrate their spouses or sponsor their

spouse’s citizenship, according to Kate Kendell, executive director of the National Center for Lesbian Rights. She said California’s domestic partnership law is meaningless as soon as a couple leaves the state.

“It is an utter headache to figure out where one line ends and another begins,” she said. “All of our federal agencies know how to deal with marriage, but they don’t know what to do with domestic partnership.”

Wendy Daw and Belinda Ryan of Fremont know very well the frustrations of not having full marriage rights. They have put off having children and have spent what would have been the down payment on their house keeping Ryan, who is Welsh, in the United States.

“We don’t necessarily have the resources to be doing this, but we somehow seem to muddle through. A lot of families are getting destroyed by that situation, and it’s such a simple fix,” Daw said. “You begin to feel a little bit like a basketball being bounced around the court, and at the same time we are living real lives and there are consequences.”

But while many gays and lesbians saw the ruling as a blow, some took it a little more lightly.

“I’m not surprised, but I don’t think it means anything in the longrun because you’re not going to stop people from feeling about each other the way they do,” Ken Maley said.

Maley lives in San Francisco, where he was married to his partner of 14 years, Firat Yener, in a ceremony at City Hall when Mayor Gavin Newsom allowed gay marriage in 2004.

<p>”But I am sad that California did not live up to our leading-the-nation reputation and just followed the ‘norm.’ I am disappointed,” Maley said.

amartin@examiner.com sfarooq@examiner.com

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