Atlanta commission sides with lesbians wanting country club membership

BY admin

January 14 2004 12:00 AM ET

Atlanta's Human Relations Commission determined Monday that a country club violated a city ordinance by denying same-sex couples the perks given to other families. Sue Ross, a spokeswoman for Mayor Shirley Franklin, said Tuesday the panel will send its finding to Franklin on the matter involving Druid Hills Country Club.

Lee Kyser, a clinical psychologist, wants her partner, attorney and political activist Lawrie Demorest, to have the privileges given to members' spouses. Randy L. New, an attorney, is seeking the same for his partner, Russell Tippins, who is a radiologist. But Druid Hills Golf Club says its bylaws permit such privileges only for members who are legally married. In July, Kyser and New filed a sexual orientation discrimination complaint, marking only the second time such legal action has been taken against a country club in the United States. The first case has stalled in a California appeals court.

Because Georgia is one of four states without an antidiscrimination law, the Human Relations Commission is the only place the complaint could be filed. Kyser, who put down $40,000 and pays about $475 in monthly dues at the 91-year-old club, said she is concerned her 2-year-old twins will feel discriminated against when they attend swimming lessons there next year. "We're just like any other family," Kyser said, "except that we happen to be lesbians."

Franklin will have 30 days to respond to the commission's finding. If New and Kyser win, the club probably will be asked to change its policy. If the country club refuses to change its policy, the city could yank its business and liquor licenses.

When Kyser and Demorest sought to join Druid Hills Golf Club in 1999, they asked if Kyser could be the member and Demorest could be the spouse. The hope was that Demorest, like other spouses, would be permitted to golf without paying guest fees, hold business meetings there on her own, and assume the membership if Kyser died. They were told they could join separately, not as a couple. Kyser joined
anyway, and she encouraged her friend New to do so as well.

The two golfing buddies were optimistic their domestic partners eventually would be granted spousal privileges. But with each subsequent request and passing year, they received the same denials. Said New, 49: "We tried to give the club every opportunity, but they weren't going to do it."

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