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Is it Illegal in California for Businesses to Refuse to Serve LGBT or Gay Customers?

lgbtEarlier in 2014, a local California catering business made news when they refused to cater a wedding for a gay couple. Since then, several states across the nation, such as Texas or Arizona,  are enacting laws that would support a business owner’s decision to refuse to service gay / LGBT customers.  It raises the question many business owners wonder, which is, whether it is illegal or legal to refuse to serve gay customers for religious or other reasons.

Unfortunately, there is no single law in the U.S. federally or among states that regulates whether it is illegal or legal for business owners to refuse to serve gay / LGBT customers and there are often many inconsistent laws governing the rights of members of the LGBT community among public accommodations.

The federal Civil Rights Act of 1964 only prohibits discrimination by private businesses from refusing service based on race, color, religion, or national origin. Federal law does not prohibit businesses from declining to serve customers based on their sexual orientation.

In California, however, the rules are somewhat different. It is unlawful in California for private businesses and public accommodations to discriminate against customers based on their sexual orientation. In California, public accommodations and business establishments such as bars, restaurants, and retail stores are prohibited from discriminating against gay, lesbian, and bisexual people under the Unruh Civil Rights Act. However, sexual orientation is not one of the protected characteristics listed under the state’s Business and Professions Code section 125.6, which applies to individuals licensed to render services. So, a business owner’s right to decline services often depends on whether the business is considered one that requires licensure to provide services, or whether it  operates as a public business establishment.

If your business has questions about its customer and clientele base, please contact us at [email protected] or call (213) 403-0130 for a confidential consultation.  AXIS Legal Counsel’s Business and Corporations Practice provides legal advice to numerous businesses with a variety of legal matters, including business formations, contracts, deals, and transactions, business administration, corporate governance, operations, risk management / insurancelabor/employment matters, intellectual property, healthcare, crisis management, directors/officers, private/data security, technology, statutory/legal compliance, and business litigation. AXIS represents businesses, corporations, LLCs, LLPS, partnerships, and startups in need of a corporate lawyer, for business legal matters as well as business litigation, such as disagreements, non-solicit agreements, non-competes, trade secrets, and others.