Arnold. Issue a veto message on gay marriage at the same
time you sign a major consumer protection bill into law and
maybe the media will focus on the former while ignoring the
Guess what? Your strategy
Thursday, California Governor Arnold
Schwarzenegger issued a press
release announcing that he had just signed 47 bills and vetoed
52 others. Like moths drawn to a flame, the media was
consumed by the Governor's veto of AB 489, a measure which would
have legalized same-sex marriage in the state.
Buried in the list of the 47
bills signed into law was AB 1400, a bill which could have a
major impact on businesses and consumers alike. Called
"The Civil Rights Act of 2005," the new law adds "marital
status" to the Unruh Civil Rights Act -- a California statute
which prohibits any business establishment of any kind
whatsoever from engaging in discriminatory business practices.
Many businesses give discounts to
the spouse of a consumer which are not given to the unmarried
partner of a consumer.
Some health clubs, such as Ballys
Total Fitness, for example, allow a "family" member of an
existing patron to join with a major price discount. But
when the fine print is scrutinized it becomes clear that an
unmarried partner or a long-term roommate or even a cousin who
lives with a club patron would not be eligible for the discount.
Only legally married couples qualify.
Some automobile clubs allow
spouses to be added as an associate or joint member for free or
with a major price cut, while charging full price for a second
membership when a club member adds a roommate, partner, or
unmarried blood relative living with the member.
Many insurance companies
discriminate on the basis of marital status, charging higher
auto premiums to an unmarried motorist than a married one.
Some companies refuse to issue joint renter's insurance policies
to unmarried couples although a married couple can get a big
discount in price by taking out a joint policy together.
By adding "marital status" to the
Unruh Civil Rights Act, the bill just signed into law by Gov.
Schwarzenegger calls into question the legality of charging some
customers more than others because they are unmarried.
Some 20 years ago the California
Supreme Court declared that price distinctions based on "sex"
violated the Unruh Civil Rights Act.
In that case, Dennis Koire
visited several car washes which advertised "ladies day"
discounts and asked for the price break but was refused.
Koire then went to several nightclubs which allowed women to
enter without a cover charge on "ladies night." He asked
to enter for free but was refused.
Koire then sued these business
establishments and argued that charging a man more than a woman
for the same service was "sex" discrimination in violation of
the Unruh Act. The California Supreme Court agreed,
concluding that the statute prohibited "sex-based price
Now that the term "marital
status" has been added to the same statute, a similar rationale
should apply to discounts or price differentials that a business
might apply to a married person or couple but not to an
unmarried person or couple.
In the Koire case, the Supreme
Court rejected the argument that price differentials should be
permissible because they are profitable. Just as the court
refused to allow a profit motive to justify sex-based pricing
practices, it could just as easily reject economic
considerations as a justification for marital status price
It is interesting that no major
businesses or trade associations came forward in the legislative
process to oppose the new "marital status" protections in AB
1400. The only significant opposition was from a variety
of religious organizations and "traditional values" groups.
But where were these "family
values" folks last week when the Governor signed a major piece
of civil rights legislation prohibiting marital status
discrimination by California businesses? They were falling
all over themselves and each other to heap praise on the
Governor for vetoing the gay marriage bill, that's where they
His veto message now places the
ultimate decision about legalizing gay marriage with the
California Supreme Court. This shifts the focus of
attention to judges who won't be up for election next year.
Very clever, Arnold.
Unmarried America 2005
Thomas F. Coleman, Executive Director of Unmarried America, is an
attorney with 33 years of experience in singles' rights, family
diversity, domestic partner benefits, and marital status discrimination.
Each week he adds a new commentary to Column One: Eye on Unmarried
firstname.lastname@example.org. Unmarried America is a nonprofit
information service for unmarried employees, consumers, taxpayers, and