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The Unruh Act clearly prohibited marital status discrimination against registered domestic partners in California. The Unruh Act clearly prohibits discrimination based on marital status (regardless of whether the affected persons are registered domestic partners) and also based on sexual orientation. The Legislature has also confirmed that the enumerated characteristics should be construed as illustrative rather than restrictive.
Plaintiffs Michael Butler and Richard Butler ("the Butlers") have been registered domestic partners in the state of California since 2000. In 2002, they were seeking to adopt a child and had been certified and approved to adopt in California. Defendants Dale R. Gwilliam and Nathan W. Gwilliam were Arizona residents who run businesses that operate adoption-related websites. The defendants adopted a policy allowing only individuals in an opposite-sex marriage to post profiles. Plaintiffs sued defendants, alleging violations of the Unruh Civil Rights Act, Cal. Civ. Code §§ 51 and 51.5; and violations of California's unfair competition and false advertising laws, Cal. Bus. & Prof. Code §§ 17200 and 17500. Each side moved for summary judgment.
In deciding which state's law to apply, the court found that the failure to apply California law would have undermined the Unruh Act, thus California had a significant interest to protect while Arizona's interests would not be seriously impaired by applying California law. The court found that there was a triable issue as to whether the policy of not allowing unmarried couples to post profiles on the adoption website amounted to marital status discrimination. The court also found, given the unclear status of California law at the time, the operators should not be subjected to damages for marital status discrimination; however, the claim for injunctive relief could go forward as the court found that the operators had not actually articulated any legitimate business reason for its "married-couples-only" policy. The unfair competition and false advertising laws claims were dismissed. Accordingly, the partners' motion for summary judgment was denied; the operators' motion for summary judgment was granted as to the unfair competition and false advertising claims; granted as to the claims of alter ego and successor liability; and denied as to the claims under the Unruh Act.