The California supreme court agreed Wednesday to hear an appeal from a San Diego woman who contends that California's civil rights law should protect her and her lesbian partner from discrimination based on marital status. B. Birgit Koebke filed a lawsuit against the Bernardo Heights Country Club in 2001 because it requires her to pay guest fees whenever her state-registered domestic partner, Kendall French, plays golf at the club. Bernardo Heights maintains that only a member's legal spouse is entitled to free use of the course and other family benefits.
In Atlanta a city commission recently found that the Druid Hills Golf Club was found to violate the city's antidiscrimination ordinance by refusing spousal benefits to a lesbian couple and a gay couple. Efforts to mediate a solution broke down in late May. Koebke, a 47-year-old television sales executive, argues that California's Unruh Civil Rights Act of 1959 protects her from discrimination based on marital status. Since California law bans same-sex marriage, Koebke contends, she cannot fully enjoy the benefits of her club membership, which she purchased in 1986. A San Diego superior court judge dismissed her claims in 2002. In March an appellate court ordered the trial court to review a portion of her case but rejected Koebke's challenges of the interpretation of the civil rights law. The California supreme court voted 7-0 to review Koebke's appeal of that decision. The court did not indicate when it would hear the case.
A ruling in Koebke's favor could redefine protections for same-sex couples, according to her attorney, Jon Davidson of the gay rights legal firm Lambda Legal Defense and Education Fund. "This is huge. We're really excited," Koebke said of Wednesday's vote. "It's not about B. and Kendall anymore. It's not about a game of golf anymore.... If they rule in our favor, so many people can win now." The lawyer for Bernardo Heights, John Shiner, expressed confidence the court would affirm the club's right to limit family benefits to legal spouses. "We are looking forward to the opportunity to present our position to the supreme court," he said. Koebke's lawsuit is believed to be the first of its kind in the nation.