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Businesses Can't Discriminate Against Gay Couples


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Businesses Can't Discriminate Against Gay Couples Calif. Court Rules

by Mark Worrall 365Gay.com San Francisco Bureau

Posted: August 1, 2005 5:00 pm ET

(San Francisco, California) Country clubs must offer same-sex couples the same discounted memberships that they give married couples California's Supreme Court ruled Monday in a decision that will spillover to affect all businesses in the state.

The court ruled that Bernardo Heights Country Club in San Diego discriminated against a lesbian couple when it refused to give B. Birgit Koebke and Kendall French the full benefit of Koebke's membership.

Bernardo Heights' membership policy allows a spouse to be included in membership. Although Koebke and French have been together since 1993 and registered partners since 1998, Bernardo Heights Country Club refused to recognize the couple's relationship, limited how frequently they could use the course together, and forced them to pay additional greens fees whenever French seeks to play golf as Koebke's "guest."

Lambda Legal argued that the club's rules violate California's civil rights laws.

"The case basically asks whether businesses in California can provide benefits that are limited to couples that are married," Lambda attorney Jon Davidson argued.

"So long as same-sex couples can't get married, you are essentially excluding all those couples. It means no gay people are ever going to be able to get the benefits."

Lawyers for the club argued that the rules do not amount to discrimination because they apply to all unmarried people.

The court, in today's ruling, said that allowing the families of married members to golf gratis while charging the partners of gay members constitutes "impermissible marital status discrimination."

"The Legislature has made it abundantly clear than an important goal of the Domestic Partner Act is to create substantial legal equality between domestic partners and spouses," Associate Justice Carlos Moreno wrote for a five-judge majority.

"We interpret this language to mean that there shall be no discrimination in the treatment of registered domestic partners and spouses."

The ruling reverses two lower courts that sided with the country club. But, it also limits damages. The court said the couple could not claim financial damages for the period before they became registered partners.

A similar case was waged in Georgia.

In December Atlanta mayor Shirley Franklin directed Atlanta's solicitor to fine Druid Hills Country Club $500 a day for each day, up to 180 days, it does not comply with a city LGBT rights ordinance after the club refused to grant a family membership to two same-sex couples. (story)

The club then filed suit against the city alleging the ordinance is illegal (story) and the city's own solicitor refused to prosecute Druid Hills claiming the ordinance may be unconstitutional. (story)

The legislature then passed a bill forbidding both the state and municipalities from imposing any penalty on private organizations" engaged in lawful expressive association" effecting preventing Atlanta from enforcing its human rights ordinance. The law went into effect in June. (story)

©365Gay.com 2005


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