View Full Version : CA Supreme Court Rules Gay Couples Get Same Benefits As Married Couples

08-01-2005, 07:24 PM
State Court Rules Backs Benefits for Domestic Partners


(Gold9472: This is it... the coming of the apocalypse.)

By John Spano, Times Staff Writer

A country club that granted married couples benefits it denied to gay couples registered as domestic partners was in violation of California civil rights laws, the California Supreme Court ruled this morning.

The wide-ranging ruling means that any benefits that California businesses provide to married couples must be offered to registered domestic partners.

The court struck down a policy by the Bernardo Heights Country Club in San Diego against admitting gay couples as members.

The decision, written by Justice Carlos R. Moreno, the court ruled that California's "policy favoring marriage is not served by denying registered domestic partners protection from discrimination under the Unruh Act," the state anti-discrimination law.

The ruling was a victory for Birgit Koebke and Kendall French. The two have been partners since 1993 and registered in California since 2000, according to the opinion.

Moreno wrote that "permitting a business to discriminate against registered domestic partners by denying them benefits or services it extends to spouses violates the comparable public policy favoring domestic partnership."

Under country club rules, members and spouses play golf for free. Others are charged as guests, and guests are allowed to play a maximum of six times a year, paying $50 to $70 green fees each time.

Koebke bought her Bernardo Heights Country Club membership in 1991 for $18,000.

"For registered domestic partners, it means when they walk into a business, they are entitled to be treated the same way as spouses are," said Jon Davidson, legal director for Lambda Legal Defense Fund, which argued the case.

The decision applies only in California. Davidson pointed out that only a few states — such as Vermont, Connecticut, New Jersey and Maine — recognize domestic partnerships.

"Businesses can't give discounts to married couples — banks, health clubs or automobile clubs — unless they also give them to registered domestic partners," Davidson said.

"It's moving us toward a situation where people in same sex relationships will be treated the same as people in different sex relationships," Davidson said.

John Shiner, who represented the country club, said the state's registered domestic partner law, which went into effect in January, had a big impact on the ruling. The Supreme Court opinion today, Shiner said, simply affirms what the law says.

"The limited impact is simply the court's declaration that same sex couples who have registered must be accorded the same rights as legally married heterosexual couples," said Shiner. "That is no surprise, because that's essentially what the act provides."

Shiner cited the court's finding that the country club had not violated the law before the act went into effect.

Davidson said his group continues to push for recognition of same-sex marriages in California. He said most businesses in the state extend equal treatment to registered domestic partners because they recognize it's the right thing to do.

The finding that the Unruh Act was violated carries an automatic penalty of $4,000, Davidson said.

Joining Moreno were Chief Justice Ronald George, and Justices Joyce Kennard, Marvin Baxter and Ming W. Chin. Justice Kathryn M. Werdegar filed an opinion that dissented in part and concurred in part.