The California Supreme Court ruled unanimously yesterday that businesses providing special discounts and services to spouses must extend the same to registered domestic partners. The LA Times describes the decision in greater detail. The ruling is based on the law Gov. Schwarzenegger signed that took effect Jan 1, 2005. Not only was the decision unanimous, but the only judge to partially dissent did so because he wanted to go further!
This is a victory for all Californian families. And that's not just being a little snide--that's how the court saw it too. The country club in question tried to argue that (a) they were trying to limit access to the club because they couldn't let all of their "members' friends" play, and (b) they were trying to create a "family friendly" environment.
As to the first claim, the court noted drily that, since the club already permitted spouses, children, and grandchildren of members to golf for free, extending equal benefits to a handful of registered domestic partners would not create a "stampede on the fairway." (They also noted that the person requesting a spousal benefit was not merely a "friend" but a "registered domestic partner" in a "loving, caring, committed relationship.") And as to the second claim, the court replied with what I feel was its most important holding: the unambiguous recognition that same-sex couples are families too.
BHCC [Bernardo Heights Country Club] also argues that denying French the spousal benefit contributes to the creation of a “family-friendly environment.” While creating a family-friendly environment may be a legitimate business interest, that policy is not served when a business discriminates against the domestic partner of one of its members. Rather, by so doing, the business violates the policy favoring domestic partnerships which, like the policy favoring marriage, seeks to promote and protect families as well as reduce discrimination based on gender and sexual orientation. Accordingly, we conclude that, while promoting a “family-friendly environment” may be a legitimate business interest, that interest is not furthered by excluding families formed through domestic partnership. [Emphasis Added]
The court was not fooled by BHCC's attempt to hide behind the claim that they were just pursuing a neutral "marital status" policy. The court said that, "there was evidence that unmarried, heterosexual members of BHCC were granted membership privileges to which they were not entitled, while plaintiffs were denied such privileges purportedly pursuant to BHCC’s spousal benefit policy. There was, moreover, significant evidence that BHCC’s directors were motivated by animus toward plaintiffs because of their sexual orientation..." In other words, the court knew what this case was really about.
The partial dissent was even more keen on this point. The judge said that the evidence showed, "BHCC maintained its spousal benefit limitation as a 'subterfuge' or 'device' to accomplish prohibited discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation." And when dealing with the "family-friendly" claim, the judge reasoned rather sarcastically:
"By “family-friendly environment,” BHCC, which denies having intentionally discriminated on the basis of sexual orientation, cannot mean a club devoid of gay and lesbian members... By a “family-friendly” club environment, then, I take BHCC to mean not an environment excluding gay and lesbian couples, but, rather, an environment that welcomes members’ immediate families and includes them in club activities, promoting fuller social relationships within the club membership... but this goal would be disserved, not served, by the club’s policy of denying club privileges to registered domestic partners of members."
You know, it's nice that Janice Rogers Brown is off the California court so great decisions like these can now be unanimous. Thanks, W!