California businesses must give spousal privileges to registered same-sex couples, the state Supreme Court ruled Monday by a vote of 5-0.
Businesses that provide discounts, special services or other privileges to married couples must extend the same rights and benefits to same-sex domestic partners, according to the ruling. A slew of businesses will be affected by the decision, including banks, mortgage lenders, auto insurers and health clubs.
The ruling, which came about in the case of a lesbian couple seeking family membership at the Bernardo Heights Country Club in San Diego, adds to the growing body of legislation and court rulings that have put the Golden State ahead of most others in extending rights to same-sex couples.
B. Birgit Koebke, 48, sued the country club for refusing to give her partner golfing and other privileges extended to spouses. She called Monday's ruling "a great victory for all California families."
"We are not second-class citizens," said Koebke, who has been with her partner, Kendall French, for 13 years. "We have every right to the same benefits that all married couples enjoy."
The ruling was the court's first on the scope of California's Domestic Partner Law, which took effect on January 1. The current version of the domestic-partnership law grants to registered partners most of the rights of spouses under state law, and a business that extends benefits to spouses it denies to same-sex couples engages in "impermissible marital status discrimination."
Beginning in 2007, all businesses with large state contracts will be required to offer domestic couples the same benefits that spouses enjoy, The Associated Press reports.
Koebke and French, who are registered domestic partners, alleged the club refused to extend them certain benefits it extends to its married members, constituting marital-status discrimination under the Unruh Civil Rights Act, California's anti-discrimination law.
"The Legislature has made it abundantly clear than an important goal of the Domestic Partner Act is to create substantial legal equality between domestic partners and spouses," Associate Justice Carlos Moreno wrote in the decision. "We interpret this language to mean that there shall be no discrimination in the treatment of registered domestic partners and spouses."
"It is a great week for the thousands of gay and lesbian families who are registered domestic partners," Eddie Gutierrez, spokesperson for Equality California, the statewide civil-rights organization for the gay and lesbian community, told MTV News. "[This decision] means we can stand tall and businesses have an obligation to treat all domestic partners equally as married couples."
Additional state legislation, the Civil Rights Act of 2005 (or Assembly Bill 1400), is expected to be passed on to the California Senate for a vote at the end of the month. The bill, spearheaded by Assemblymember John Laird (D-Santa Cruz), would grant protection from discrimination to any person regardless of their sexual orientation, gender identity or marital status.
The California Supreme Court ruling comes on the heels of other victories for gay and lesbian couples won in the past month. On July 4, the United Church of Christ, which includes 1.3 million members, became the largest Christian denomination in the U.S. to endorse same-sex marriage, approving a resolution in support of equal marriage rights for all people, regardless of gender (see "Mainstream U.S. Church Endorses Gay Marriage").
On July 21, Canada became the fourth nation in the world — following the Netherlands, Belgium and Spain — to legalize gay marriage, granting full legal rights to same-sex couples (see "Canada Legalizes Same-Sex Marriage").