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California’s domestic partnership law has survived a claim that it essentially constitutes reverse discrimination against heterosexual couples. Los Angeles’ 2nd District Court of Appeal on Wednesday threw out a suit by a man claiming that unmarried couples of the opposite sex should have the same right as same-sex couples to file wrongful-death suits. Jack Holguin said the law’s exclusion of unmarried heterosexual couples violates his equal protection rights. Holguin’s girlfriend, Tamara Booth, was killed in a car accident. They had lived together for three years, but never married. The Los Angeles County trial judge dismissed the complaint, and the 1st District affirmed, holding that the state Legislature had “rational bases” for not extending partnership benefits to “cohabiting unmarried couples in general.” “The fact domestic partners are legally or practically prevented from marrying, while cohabiting couples of the opposite sex are not,” Justice Earl Johnson Jr. wrote, “provides a rational basis for extending the right to sue for wrongful death to the former but not the latter. “In addition,” he said, “married couples and domestic partners have publicly registered their legal relationship while cohabiting couples of the opposite sex have not, thereby providing an additional basis for recognizing the economic loss to the survivors of the former but not the latter.” Justices Dennis Perluss and Fred Woods concurred. In passing the law in 2000, legislators said adult couples may qualify as domestic partners if they are of the same sex or one of the two is at least 62 years of age and eligible for Social Security benefits. The law was amended in 2002, adding several new rights and obligations, including the ability to sue for wrongful death. That change was prompted by the January 2001 dog-mauling death of Diane Whipple in San Francisco. Sharon Smith, Whipple’s longtime partner, lobbied for the new law after finding out she — and all other same-sex couples — had no right to sue for wrongful death. “By extending the right to sue for wrongful death to surviving members of domestic partnerships the Legislature remedied this inequity,” Justice Johnson wrote. “But Holguin and Booth never suffered from this inequity,” he continued, “because they were never members of the class of couples who, because of their gender or age, were barred from marrying and thereby barred from bringing a wrongful death action. Holguin and Booth always had the right to marry.” The court insinuated that it could be opening up a huge can of worms if it ruled in favor of Holguin. “The number of unmarried cohabiting couples of opposite sex increased 800 percent between 1960 and 1970 and almost tripled between 1970 and 1984,” Johnson wrote. “In 2001 a California legislative committee estimated the number of ‘unmarried cohabitants’ in the state as approximately 600,000. Nationwide, the number is purported to be over 4 million.” The ruling is Holguin v. Flores, B168774.

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