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Spurred by emotional testimony from the partner of a woman who was killed in a Jan. 26 dog attack, the California Assembly Judiciary Committee voted 8-2 Tuesday to approve a bill that will increase rights for same-sex couples. Sharon Smith, whose partner Diane Whipple was fatally attacked in the hallway of their San Francisco Pacific Heights apartment building by one, and possibly two, 120-pound Presa Canario dogs, tearfully told the committee how current California law makes her seven-year relationship invisible. “To say it added insult to injury is an understatement,” Smith said. Smith’s testimony was in support of a bill authored by California Assemblywoman Carole Migden, D-San Francisco, which aims to broaden the rights of same-sex couples and expand the group of individuals who may register as same-sex partners. Also testifying on behalf of the bill was Laurie Simonson, a board member of the Bar Association of San Francisco. AB25, which is a compilation of several bills left over from last session, would, among other things, allow same-sex couples to make medical treatment decisions, inherit property, and in Smith’s case, sue for wrongful death — something she did Monday. Migden called the legislation, which received support from almost a dozen groups including the California Nurses Association and the California Teachers Association and has the support of President Pro Tem John Burton, D-San Francisco, “a little baby sliver of some good.” And despite opposition from pro-family groups who told the committee that the bill would weaken the sanctity of marriage in California, only Robert Pacheco, R-Los Angeles, and Thomas Harman, R-Huntington Beach, voted against the bill. Kathryn Kendall, head of the National Center for Lesbian Rights and co-counsel in Smith’s suit, said Smith testified because “she wants to give meaning to Diane’s death. She wants to ensure that no one else is as legally marginalized as she found herself to be.” Smith’s suit, which was filed in San Francisco on Monday, will likely serve as a test case for gay partnership rights. It’s also expected to help push AB25 through the Legislature. Named in the suit are Robert Noel and Marjorie Knoller, the lawyers who were taking care of the dogs, and Rudolph Koppl, the owner of the apartment building.

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