ISSUES AFFECTING SINGLE PEOPLE
unmarried couples, and nonmarital families experience a wide variety of
discrimination-related problems. Some of these problems include:
children born to unmarried parents
being labeled by the law as "bastards" or "illegitimate"
criminal laws imposing penalties for
consenting sex in private or for unmarried cohabitation
discrimination in hiring and firing
being paid less benefits compensation
than married employees
being denied equal benefits by some
companies with "gays only" domestic partner programs
being refused housing by some
landlords, especially those with religious bias against singles
paying higher insurance rates simply
because of being unmarried
being refused the option of a joint
insurance policy for domestic partners
sometimes having to pay higher taxes
than a married couple
being refused to live with unrelated
people in an area zoned for "single family" use
being denied child custody or having
visitation restrictions if living with a domestic partner
This part of the web
site contains information on the following topics:
Examples of Discrimination Against Unmarried Adults
Laws Affecting Unmarried Adults
Real Life Cases of Marital Status Discrimination
Examples Of Discrimination Against
discrimination is widespread in the United States. Most marital status discrimination is
targeted against unmarried adults, although some forms of discrimination are perpetrated
against married couples (e.g., anti-nepotism employment rules, an income tax
Some employers prefer to hire
married workers. This is especially true for absentee owners of apartment buildings who
prefer to hire, or who will only hire, married-couple caretakers.
Some employers tend to favor married
workers when it comes to promotions, on the theory that they better fit the image the
company wants to project to the public.
Some employers have refused to hire
workers who are living with an unmarried partner. Cases of such discrimination against
heterosexual workers have been documented in places such as California, Arizona, and
Most employers discriminate against
unmarried workers when it comes to employee benefits, giving more benefits compensation to
married employees than to single employees.
Some employers, such as Xerox, Bank of
America, Bank Boston, and Merrill Lynch, have taken steps to eliminate benefits
discrimination against unmarried workers.
A growing number of employers (over
600 now) have expanded spousal or family benefits programs to include domestic partners.
However, about 40% of these programs exclude opposite-sex domestic partners, forcing them
to get married in order to receive equal benefits compensation.
Some employers are adopting
cafeteria-style benefits plans so each worker has the same amount of credits to be used
for benefits that suit his or her personal or family needs, regardless of marital status.
cities have zoning laws that prohibit a group of unrelated adults from living together in
an area zoned for single-families. In recent years, some of these laws have been repealed
(Denvers R-0 zoning law is an example) or declared unconstitutional by the courts
(New York, New Jersey, and California are examples).
landlords wont rent to single adults, single parents, or unmarried couples. Some of
them cite religious beliefs against unmarried
A study done by the California Insurance
Commissioners Anti-Discrimination Take Force in 1993 documented that marital status
discrimination by insurance companies is widespread. It occurs in almost all lines of
insurance. Responsible single adults are judged by insurers on the basis of class
stereotypes, rather than on the basis of past performance or individual merit.
A study done by the Los Angeles
City Attorneys Consumer Task Force on Marital Status Discrimination in 1990 found
that despite the fact that unmarried adults constituted a MAJORITY of the adult population
in Los Angeles, marital status discrimination was regularly practiced by many businesses,
including: landlords, automobile clubs, health spas, credit unions, airlines, mortuaries,
Child Custody and
Courts in some states have
included restrictions in a child custody order prohibiting the custodial parent from
living with a person of the opposite-sex outside of wedlock or forbidding a paramour from
staying overnight in the custodial home.
Courts in some states refuse to
enforce cohabitation agreements between unmarried partners on the ground that it would be
against public policy.
Statutes in many states still
refer to a child born out of wedlock as a "bastard" or as
"illegitimate." Some court decisions refer to an unmarried female partner as a
"concubine" or to domestic partners as a "meretricious" relationship
(i.e. of, or pertaining to, prostitution).
Laws Affecting Unmarried Adults
states have statutes on the
books which make it a crime
for an unmarried man and a woman to cohabit together: Florida, Idaho, Michigan,
Mississippi, North Carolina, North Dakota, Virginia and West Virginia fall
into this category.
Seven states and the District
of Columbia have laws which make it a crime for a man and a woman to engage in consensual intercourse in
private: Idaho, Massachusetts, Minnesota, South Carolina, Utah, Virginia, West
Virginia, and D.C. fall into this
have statutes which make it
a crime for an unmarried man and woman to engage in consensual sodomy in private (which is
defined as oral or anal sex or both): Alabama, Florida, Idaho, Louisiana,
Massachusetts, Michigan, Minnesota, Mississippi, North Carolina, South Carolina, Utah, and
Virginia fall into this category.
Laws prohibiting consensual
sodomy have been used to put defendants in prison for consensual heterosexual sex with
another adult. Even when juries have found defendants not guilty of rape, on the rationale
that the conduct was consensual, they have found defendants guilty of sodomy because the
judge had instructed the jury that, unlike rape, consent is not a defense to the crime of
A decision by the United
States Supreme Court, Lawrence v. Texas, filed in June 2003 has
effectively declared that all of the statutes mentioned above are
unconstitutional. Now it will be up to the legislatures in these
states to repeal them or for the Attorneys General in these states to
declare them invalid and unenforceable. Although these laws are
theoretically invalid due to the Supreme Court decision, lawmakers or
enforcers in these states must take some action to officially
acknowledge that the Supreme Court ruling applies to these laws.
Civil effects of
Some courts that have
restricted the civil rights of unmarried cohabitants have cited criminal laws against
fornication or cohabitation as the rationale for doing so. For example, courts in
Washington, Minnesota, Michigan, Maryland have relied on these criminal laws as the basis
for denying fair housing rights to unmarried couples, despite express statutory
prohibitions against "marital status" discrimination.
Some courts have cited these
criminal laws as a basis for refusing to enforce cohabitation or "palimony"
agreements, on the ground that doing so would violate public policy.
Some courts have cited
criminal laws prohibiting consenting adult sexual behavior as the basis for decisions
denying child custody or restricting visitation by a parent.
Some federal courts have
cited fornication or anti-cohabitation laws as a ground to deny taxpayers the right to
declare an unmarried cohabitant as a "dependent" for federal income tax
federal Equal Employment Opportunity Act does not prohibit marital status discrimination.
Only 21 states have laws that
prohibit employers from discriminating on the basis of marital status.
federal Fair Housing Act does not prohibit marital status discrimination.
Fewer than half of the states
have laws that prohibit landlords from discriminating on the basis of marital status.
In some of these states,
courts have narrowly interpreted these laws so that unmarried couples do not receive
protection from housing discrimination, e.g., Maryland, Wisconsin, Illinois, and
In other states, the courts
have broadly interpreted these laws to give unmarried couples protection from housing
discrimination, e.g., Alaska, California, Michigan New Jersey, and Massachusetts.
law, and laws in some states, prohibit marital status discrimination in credit.
Real Life Cases Of
Marital Status Discrimination
Debra Deem and Jim Riley
live in Camarillo. Sometimes people stop to ask what the bumper sticker on their car
means. The slogan reads: "Refugees from Arizona laws." Although it is sometimes
an inconvenience, the couple feel that it is their duty to take a few minutes to tell
their story to those who inquire.
They formerly lived in
Alaska. When Jim received a job offer in Arizona, Debra quit her position as a
victim-witness coordinator with the Anchorage district attorney and moved with Jim.
Debra applied for a job as a
juvenile probation officer with Maricopa County. She thought she had the job when the
recruiter saw her resume, the high job performance ratings with her previous employer, and
her excellent personal references.
Then came the final page on
the application. Debra had to answer several personal inquiries under penalty of perjury
about prior arrests, drug use, etc.
The final question infuriated
her. Do you live with a person of the opposite sex outside of wedlock? When she said
"yes," the interview process ended.
Arizona and 12 other states have
laws making unmarried cohabitation a crime. The county would not hire a
"criminal" for a law enforcement position. Debra and Jim packed their belongings
and headed for California. They assumed they would find toleration and respect here. They
assumed they would be judged on the basis of individual merit rather than class
stereotypes. Were their assumptions correct? Read on.
was seeking a job with the San Diego chapter of the Boy Scouts of America. The position
involved recruiting adult volunteers for the group. Robert had impeccable references.
During the interview, he was asked about his marital status. Robert explained that he and
his fiancÚ lived together and planned to marry, although they had not yet established a
firm date for the wedding. Robert was denied the position because the employer disapproved
of unmarried cohabitation.
moved to Los Angeles from Detroit where he had once been an on-site manager of a medium
size apartment complex. Bryan looked in the Los Angeles Times and Daily News to find a
similar job. He was surprised to see ad after ad indicate that only married couples need
apply. Bryan called a few ads anyway. He explained that although he was single, he did not
live alone. His domestic partner, Xavier, would be living with him and so he could help
Bryan with the chores. The responses were all the same: "married couples only."
Bryan moved back to Detroit.
Tony Melia had just
retired. He wanted to travel more and so he bought a motor home. Tony was shocked when he
called his insurance company and told the agent about his plans. Although he had an
unblemished driving record, the agent informed Tony that the company added a hefty
surcharge on all single drivers. Tony had no choice but to pay the penalty.
Ken Phillips and Gail
Randall were looking for an apartment to rent in Chico. They found the perfect
place, filled out an application, and handed the landlady a deposit. There was one last
minute inquiry: "You are married, arent you?" When the landlady found out
that Ken and Gail were unmarried partners, she flatly refused to rent to them. Never mind
the fact that they had lived together for years, had good jobs, and could give wonderful
references from prior landlords.
Ken and Gail fought back.
They filed a complaint with the state fair housing agency. The tribunal ruled that the
landlady had violated a state law against marital status discrimination in housing.
But the landlady appealed and
won the first round in court. The Court of Appeal agreed that discrimination against
unmarried couples in housing is illegal. But the court sided with the landlady anyway, on
the theory that a business owner with religious objections to unmarried cohabitation does
not have to obey the states civil rights laws.
Gail and Ken took their case
to the California Supreme Court. Eventually, the high court sided with the tenants,
refusing to give "special rights" to business owners who want to discriminate
under the guise of religious freedom. The landlady appealed, but the U. S. Supreme Court
rejected her case.
In 1996, some 10 years later,
Ken and Gail won their case. But with such delays and associated costs, little wonder that
most victims of marital status discrimination have been reluctant to fight back.
worked for the City of Los Angeles and belonged to the Los Angeles City Employees Federal
Credit Union. Taylor was living with her fiancÚ, Roger Naas. Terry wanted to buy a new
car but did not make enough money to qualify for credit on her own. She and Roger
therefore sought to apply for a joint loan from the credit union.
They were turned down. Not
because of bad credit or lack of joint resources. The loan was rejected solely because the
credit union would not give joint loans to unmarried couples.
The problem was that credit
unions can only issue loans to members. Members can be city employees or their immediate
Terry and Roger discovered
that the board of directors of the credit union had voted to define "immediate
family" as being limited to spouses or blood relatives of employees.
Although Terry and Roger
never got a loan, the problem was later corrected after it was exposed by the Los Angeles
City Attorneys Consumer Task Force on Marital Status Discrimination.
The credit union board finally
changed its by-laws to define "family" in a more expansive manner, so that
spouses, blood relatives, or other household members such as domestic partners may now
Levine and her fiancÚ, Alfred Sharff, who works in the television production
business, also have experienced credit discrimination. Marsha and Alfred had very
traditional marriage plans. They each maintained a separate home and would not live
together until they wed.
During their engagement, they
found the perfect home which they intended to purchase before their wedding date. They
applied for a joint loan from the Dreyfus Consumer Bank.
Although the home would have
been jointly owned, and although they had sufficient incomes and good credit, Dreyfus
would not approve the loan unless Marsha and Alfred signed a notarized affidavit that they
planned to be married and specified the date their marriage would occur.
Although the couple had a
date in mind, they felt that the conditions imposed by Dreyfus were illegal. As a result,
they withdrew their application and found an unconditional loan elsewhere.
Gregory Anderson and
Michael Connolly lived together for nine years. They jointly owned a condominium
in New York where the couple lived. Michael was murdered by a stranger when he was
visiting Los Angeles. After police investigated the case, a key suspect admitted that he
When Gregory heard that the
man had been sentenced, he contacted the detective assigned to the case to determine the
defendants name, the terms of his sentence, or the place of his imprisonment.
The detective refused to disclose
this information because Gregory was not a spouse or blood relative of the victim.
The story of Juan
Navarrete and Leroy Tranton is even more tragic. Juan and Leroy lived together in
Long Beach for eight years. One day, Juan came home from the grocery store and found
Leroy, who had fallen off a ladder, lying on the concrete patio. Leroy was rushed to the
hospital where he stayed in a coma for several days. Although Leroy regained
consciousness, he remained hospitalized for nine months. Juan visited Leroy once or twice
each day, feeding him and encouraging him to recuperate.
brother, who lived in Maine, filed a lawsuit seeking to have himself appointed as
When Juan accidentally found
out, he showed up at court in Long Beach. Although Juan, who was not represented by
counsel, stood up and protested, the judge refused to consider Juans plea because he
was a stranger to Leroy in the eyes of the law.
The brother subsequently had
Leroy transferred from the hospital to an undisclosed location. When Juan finally
discovered that Leroy was being housed in a nursing home about 50 miles from Long Beach,
he attempted to visit Leroy there. The staff stopped Juan in the lobby, advising him that
the brother had given them a photo of Juan with strict orders not to allow him to visit
Leroy. Unfortunately, no one else ever visited Leroy there.
It took Juan about two weeks
to find an attorney who would take the case without charge. The attorney filed a lawsuit
seeking visitation rights.
A few hours before the
hearing was scheduled to occur, the brothers attorney called Juans attorney,
informing him that Leroy had died three days before.
Since the body had already
been flown back to Maine where it was cremated, Juan never had an opportunity to pay his