Court upholds property tax rule for domestic partners

Does the State Board of Equalization have authority to extend to domestic partners the same property tax relief enjoyed by married couples?  The Third District Court of Appeal upheld the constitutionality of the Board’s action in Strong v. State Board of Equalization.

At issue in the case is the provision of Proposition 13 that prohibits counties from reassessing property to full value until a change of ownership occurs.  After Proposition 13 was adopted, the Legislature defined “change of ownership” to exclude transfers between spouses.  This was later ratified by voters in another constitutional amendment.

In this ruling, the Court of Appeal upheld a decision by the Board of Equalization to grant the same benefit to transfers between domestic partners.  The exclusion was later adopted by the Legislature as an amendment to the Revenue and Tax Code.  This allows property to pass by will from one domestic partner to the other without incurring an increase in property taxes.

This ruling may have the effect of weakening the case of those now arguing before the California Supreme Court that restricting marriage to one man and one woman violates state equal protection guarantees.  (In re Marriage Cases, Cal. Supreme Court No. S147999.)  The California Legislature has worked to equalize benefits of domestic partners with those granted to married couples.  This undercut the arguments of those arguing that state equal protection guarantees require the state to extend the right to marriage to gay and lesbian couples.

Greg May is also commenting on this case over at the California Blog of Appeal.

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