|A bill recently introduced into
the California Legislature seeks to protect unmarried residents
from marital status discrimination in a broad range of business
practices and government services.
Assembly Bill 14, known as the
"Civil Rights Act of 2007," adds "marital status" as a
prohibited form of discrimination in dozens of state statutes
which currently apply to race, sex, color, and other
traditionally protected categories. The bill is authored
by Assembly member John Laird.
For many years, California law
has prohibited public and private employers from engaging in
marital status discrimination. Longstanding fair housing
statutes have outlawed such discrimination by landlords.
Last year, in another bill
authored by Laird, state law was amended to prohibit all
business establishments of any kind from engaging in marital
status discrimination against consumers. But gaps still exist in
state law, especially with respect to government programs.
The new bill by Laird would
create protections against marital status discrimination in a
variety of situations where such protection currently does not
exist, such as participation in the Cal Grant program, voter
registration programs, delivery of emergency services, awarding
of public contracts, and food stamp eligibility.
"Throughout California law there remain significant gaps in
civil rights protections for Californians, leaving people
vulnerable to discrimination in a wide variety of situations,"
said Laird. "AB 14 strengthens dozens of codes so they are
indexed to the strongest level of protection in state law."
This is the fourth in a series of anti-discrimination bills
authored by Laird in recent years.
2004, he carried AB 2900, which amended more than 30 labor and
employment-related nondiscrimination provisions. In 2006, he
authored AB 1400, which prohibits marital status discrimination
by business establishments in their consumer practices, and AB
2800, which amended 17 housing-related anti-bias provisions.
Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger signed all of these bills into
If AB 14 is enacted, California
will have more protections against marital status discrimination
than any other state in the nation.
State laws aimed at curbing
marital status discrimination are important to unmarried
employees, tenants, and consumers, since federal law allows such
discrimination in employment and housing. The Equal Credit
Opportunity Act is the only major equal rights law at the
national level which prohibits marital status discrimination.
adults now head up a majority of households in some 24 states,
as well as the nation as a whole. Given this demographic
reality, and considering that marital status discrimination is
widespread, one would logically think that federal law would
address this problem in a systematic manner and that states with
unmarried majorities would make the elimination of marital
status discrimination more of a priority.
Only 20 states have laws
prohibiting marital status discrimination in employment, while
23 include marital status in their fair housing laws.
In many areas of the nation there
is a disconnect between outdated public policies and the new
demographic reality of family diversity.
For example, a majority of
households in Arizona are headed by unmarried adults and yet
that state does not protect the unmarried majority from
discrimination in employment or housing. The same holds true for
Georgia, Louisiana, Mississippi, Nevada, New Mexico, Ohio,
Pennsylvania, South Carolina, and Tennessee -- where most
households are unmarried but legal protections against marital
status discrimination are absent.
Being denied a promotion or getting
less pay because of one's marital status is wrong, just as it is
wrong for a landlord to discriminate against unmarried tenants
who are otherwise qualified as responsible renters. State
and federal laws should declare that such practices are against
public policy and outlaw them.
Since no member of Congress is
currently taking up the cause of fairness for unmarried
Americans, the political leadership in this area is falling on
the shoulders of elected representatives at the state level of
Politicians like John Baird of
California should be commended for using their clout and some of
their political capital to end marital status discrimination.
Perhaps a few representatives in other states will find the
courage to follow in his footsteps.
Unmarried America 2006
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