Citation. 459 Mich. 1235, 593 N.W.2d 545, 1999 Mich.
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Brief Fact Summary.
An unmarried couple was not allowed to rent an apartment because cohabitating violated the religious beliefs of the landlord.
Synopsis of Rule of Law.
The Civil Rights Act (Act) prohibits discrimination based on marital status in real estate transactions. Marital status is defined in the context of the presence or absence of marriage.
John and Terry Hoffius (Defendants) owned property, which they rented. Kristal McCready and Keith Kerr (Plaintiffs) answered an advertisement about the property, but Defendants refused to rent it to them when they learned Plaintiffs were single but intended to live together. Defendants explained that unmarried couples living together violated his religious beliefs. Plaintiffs filed a complaint with the city’s fair housing commission.
Is the cohabitation of married couples on rental properties protected by the Civil Rights Act?
The Act prohibits discrimination based on marital status in real estate transactions. Marital status is defined in the context of the presence or absence of marriage. The purpose of the Act is to prevent discrimination based on membership in certain classes. It was intended to eliminate the effects of offensive or demeaning stereotypes, prejudices, and biases.
The Act seeks to prohibit discrimination based on whether a person is married, not just married couples.
Defendants contend that their refusal to rent to Plaintiffs was based on Plaintiff’s conduct of living together while unmarried, not on their status as an unmarried couple. But, their unmarried status is what makes their conduct immoral in Defendant’s opinion. Defendant’s contention is rejected.
A state statute, which prohibits lewd behavior does not apply to cohabitation per se. To be found guilty under it, the couple must “lewdly and lasciviously associate.” In this case, there is insufficient evidence that the Plaintiffs intended to engage in lewd and lascivious behavior.
Defendant’s religion may not permit her to rent to unmarried cohabitants, but the right of free exercise does not relieve an individual of the obligation to comply with a valid and neutral law of general applicability. The Act, then, does not violate the Free Exercise Clause of the First Amendment of the United States Constitution.
(Justice Patricia J. Boyle) Marital status refers to the status of being married. So, the term marital status does not encompass the status of being an unmarried cohabitating couple. The state’s public policy refutes the claim that the legislature intends to guarantee housing to individuals who choose to cohabit.
The court notes that cohabitating and the lewd behavior statute are two separate ideas, and the former will get protection under anti-discrimination laws. In our society, many couples live together without being married, and the court seems to be responding to modern trends.