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A city ordinance requiring contractors doing business with San Francisco to offer benefits to domestic partners was unanimously upheld Thursday by the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals. S.D. Myers Inc., an Ohio-based transformer consulting company, challenged the constitutionality of the 1997 ordinance and argued further that it was pre-empted by the state’s domestic partners registry, which was enacted after a lower court sided with the city. Domestic partner rights advocates hailed the decision as a significant victory — the first of its kind by a federal appellate court — that protects similar ordinances in Seattle, Los Angeles and other cities in the West. The ordinances require companies contracting with the city to provide the same benefits for domestic partners as they do for married couples. “This is the green light we’ve been waiting for,” said Lambda Legal Defense and Education Fund lawyer Jennifer Pizer. “We know that other cities and counties have been looking to this case.” The opinion was written by Senior Judge J. Clifford Wallace, one of the more conservative members of the court. But Wallace and his colleagues, Judges Raymond Fisher and Johnnie Rawlinson, found that the ordinance was tailored narrowly enough to avoid the Commerce Clause concerns raised by S.D. Myers. “The most obvious problem with Myers’ reading is that the ordinance contains no language explicitly or implicitly targeting either out-of-state entities or entities engaged in interstate commerce,” Wallace wrote. S.D. Myers is a company that says it is centered around Christian values. Its Web site urges sinners to seek salvation through Christ and offers an e-mail form for more information. It challenged the ordinance with the help of the American Center for Law and Justice, a kind of conservative counterpart to the American Civil Liberties Union that was founded by evangelist Pat Robertson. The case was tried before U.S. District Judge Claudia Wilken, whose rulings were upheld Thursday. The challenge over the state’s domestic partners registry, which alleges that the city and state laws conflict, was remanded to Wilken. The state law wasn’t enacted until after Wilken issued her initial judgment. Parties in the case now await a second decision by the 9th Circuit in a companion case, Air Transport Association of America v. City and County of San Francisco, 99-16391, which was argued on the same day and before the same panel as S.D. Myers Inc. v. City and County of San Francisco, 01 C.D.O.S. 4894. In Air Transport, Wilken struck down portions of the ordinance relating to health benefits, ruling that those were governed by the federal Employee Retirement Income Security Act, or ERISA. But Pizer, who filed an amicus curiae brief in the case, said S.D. Myers gave the city significant reason to be optimistic about the outcome of Air Transport, which was brought by a coalition of airlines. “We expect a decision on that case any day now,” Pizer said. San Francisco Mayor Willie Brown was out of town Thursday, but spokesman P.J. Johnston said he would have been pleased with the decision. “From the perspective of the administration, this is a good thing,” Johnson said. “We have always thought that the domestic partners ordinance was valid.” Representatives from S.D. Myers or the ACLJ could not be reached. City Attorney Louise Renne released a statement Thursday saying the decision is a “tremendous triumph for equal benefits law.” She added: “The law expresses a basic principle: Domestic partners deserve to be treated equally.”

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