(San Francisco, August 1, 2005) — The California Supreme Court ruled today that the state’s civil rights law requires businesses including country clubs to treat registered domestic partners the same as married couples. The court said that partners who registered under a strengthened domestic partners law that went into effect this year are entitled to protection from discrimination under the state’s Unruh Civil Rights Act.

In a case argued by Lambda Legal, B. Birgit Koebke and Kendall E. French, a lesbian couple who have been domestic partners for 12 years, sued the Bernardo Heights Country Club for refusing to provide them with the same membership benefits given to different-sex married couples and for discriminating against them on the basis of sex and sexual orientation. The National Center for Lesbian Rights filed an amicus brief with the court, along with the Women’s Sports Foundation, and the California Women’s Law Center, urging the court to find that the club’s policy discriminates on the basis of sex and sexual orientation.

The National Center for Lesbian Rights released the following statement:

Today, the court ruled that, “Domestic partners registered under the California Domestic Partner Rights and Responsibilities Act of 2003 (the Domestic Partner Act), the current version of the domestic partnership law, are the equivalent of spouses for the purposes of the Unruh Act and if a business extends benefits to spouses which it denies to registered domestic partners, it engages in impermissible marital status discrimination.”

Justice Carlos Moreno, writing for the majority, said, “The Legislature has made it abundantly clear that in important goal of the Domestic Partner Act is to create substantial legal equality between domestic partners and spouses.”

NCLR congratulates the plaintiffs, B. Birgit Koebke and Kendall E. French, as well as their attorneys at Lambda Legal. According to Lambda Legal lead attorney in the case, Jon Davidson, “Today’s ruling brings gay and lesbian couples one step closer to equality, but at the end of the day, our clients are still left as second class citizens because they are barred from the right that would have eliminated the need for this case in the first place–the right to marry. We won an important battle today, but we need to continue to fight the fight.”

The National Center for Lesbian Rights is a national legal organization committed to advancing the civil and human rights of lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender people and their families through litigation, public policy advocacy, and public education.