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Sacramento Superior Court Judge Loren McMaster got a higher court’s validation Monday for his decision to uphold California’s recent expansion of domestic partnership rights. The Third District Court of Appeal unanimously rebuffed a challenge to McMaster’s ruling. And in an apparent swipe at a fledgling recall effort against McMaster, the appellate justices emphasized how clear-cut the case was. “The trial judge did not make public policy,” Presiding Justice Arthur Scotland wrote. Rather, he “conscientiously applied well-established rules of statutory construction to reach a decision compelled by the law.” A group of attorneys and judges who have been raising money to oppose the recall effort seized on Monday’s decision almost immediately, calling on recall proponents “to drop their misguided attack” on judicial independence, according to a statement from the Committee for Judicial Independence to Retain Judge McMaster. The recall’s official proponent vowed to keep pushing for a recall even if the lower courts are eventually overturned by the state Supreme Court. “We expected this,” Tony Andrade said. So far, recall supporters have collected about 6,000 of the more than 44,000 signatures they need by mid-July to put the question on the ballot, he estimated. Opponents of the domestic partnership law, which took effect in January, argued it amended a 2000 voter initiative, in violation of the state Constitution. The initiative, Proposition 22, created a state law that says California only recognizes marriages between a man and a woman. Attorney General Bill Lockyer and gay rights proponents argued that voters didn’t intend to limit domestic partner rights when they passed Prop 22. The Third District agreed, basing its analysis on the initiative’s language. Prop 22 could have attempted to repeal the domestic partnership law that already existed or to limit legislators’ authority to pass more laws for those unions, Scotland wrote. But the California initiative didn’t spell out those intentions, Scotland wrote, while other states have. Lawyers from two legal advocacy groups that argued against the new domestic partnership law vowed to appeal Monday’s decision to the state Supreme Court. “When the people went to the polls in 2000, they voted more than just to trademark the name marriage. They voted to preserve the essence of marriage,” said Mathew Staver, president of Liberty Counsel, which represents the Campaign for California Families. The new domestic partnership law is “fundamentally different” than the one that existed when Prop 22 was passed because the new one gives domestic partners all the rights the state can grant that are normally associated with marriage, Staver said. The attorney general echoed one of Staver’s points, calling California’s domestic partnership law the most expansive one in the country. “Today’s decision � underscores the value that all Californians place on loving, committed relationships,” Lockyer said in a statement. Lockyer and the other parties in Monday’s case are also locked in litigation over how California defines marriage. The attorney general, Liberty Counsel and another legal group, the Alliance Defense Fund, are lined up against gay marriage proponents in that fight, where a San Francisco trial judge recently ruled that the state’s prohibitions on gay marriage are unconstitutional. While the Third District handed Lockyer a victory Monday, its decision could be used against the AG’s position in the marriage litigation. Lockyer has argued that the benefits law gives same-sex couples almost all the rights that come with marriage. But Scotland ticked off a series of differences, such as the way the unions are treated for tax purposes and accorded recognition by other states and the federal government. The ruling is Knight v. Schwarzenegger, 05 C.D.O.S. 2894.

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