Court hears arguments in lesbian couple discrimination case
A California appeals court will hear arguments Monday in the case of a San Diego lesbian couple whose country club refused to treat them like other committed couples. Lambda Legal Defense and Education Fund, which is representing the women, is asking the court to order the country club to treat same-sex couples equally and fairly. "Gay men and lesbians currently cannot marry under California law," said Jon Davidson, senior counsel in Lambda's Western Regional Office. "By adopting policies that give privileges only to married couples, the country club automatically discriminates against lesbian and gay people."
The case involves B. Birgit Koebke and Kendall French, who were denied full benefit of Koebke's Bernardo Heights Country Club membership because they are not married. Bernardo Heights Country Club's membership policy allows a spouse to be included in membership. Although Koebke and
French have been domestic partners since 1993, the club refuses to recognize the couple's relationship and has forced them to pay additional greens fees whenever French seeks to play golf as Koebke's
"guest." Since 1995, Koebke has worked to obtain a change to the membership transfer policy, citing heterosexual couples who were not married but able to extend their country club privileges to their partners. Lambda alleges that by excluding Koebke and French from its membership transfer policy, the club is in violation of state laws that prohibit discrimination based on sexual orientation, marital status, and sex. "Unfortunately, there is a history of discrimination at country clubs against African-Americans, Jewish people, and other minorities," Davidson said. "Now, with this lawsuit, we hope to take the next step in ending discrimination in a place where business contacts are made and careers are developed."
Koebke bought her Bernardo Heights Country Club membership in 1991 for $18,000. Under the current membership restrictions for hosting guests, Koebke is limited to bringing French to the club only
six times a year. In addition to limiting the number of times French can play with her partner, the country club's policy forces the couple to pay greens fees between $50 and $70 per round of golf, while married spouses play for free, and does not allow the membership to be inherited by a nonspouse. "Other members have their 'better half' recognized and accepted at the club, while Kendall is only my 'guest,'" Koebke said. "We just want to be treated equally and play golf together. It's not rocket science."