San Diego Lesbian Couple Must Have Equal Benefits at Their Country Club, Lambda Legal Says in Filing at California Supreme Court

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"By adopting policies that only give privileges to married couples, the country club automatically discriminates against its lesbian and gay members."
October 25, 2004

(San Diego, October 25, 2004) - Same-sex couples in California should have full and equal benefits at country clubs and other businesses, Lambda Legal said today in a brief filed with the California Supreme Court. Lambda Legal represents a lesbian couple whose San Diego country club refused to treat them like other committed couples.

"Same-sex couples currently cannot marry under California law. By adopting policies that only give privileges to married couples, the country club automatically discriminates against its lesbian and gay members," said Jon Davidson, Senior Counsel in Lambda Legal's Western Regional Office. "We're asking the California Supreme Court to require country clubs and similar businesses to treat all couples equally and stop charging lesbian and gay couples more for the same services."

Lambda Legal represents B. Birgit Koebke and Kendall French, domestic partners who were denied full benefit of Koebke's Bernardo Heights Country Club membership because they cannot marry. 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, Bernardo Heights Country Club refuses to recognize the couple's relationship, limits how frequently they can use the course together, and forces them to pay additional greens fees whenever French seeks to play golf as Koebke's "guest."

Earlier this year, a California appeals court ruled that Koebke and French could sue Bernardo Heights Country Club for treating them worse than some different-sex couples, but did not order the club to provide same-sex couples the benefits given spouses. Today's filing argues that country clubs must respect their lesbian and gay members' committed relationships because those couples cannot marry and have no other way to receive equal treatment and benefits.

Since 1995, Koebke has worked to obtain a change to the membership transfer policy, citing couples of different sexes who were not married but were able to obtain club privileges for their partners. By denying Koebke and French the same membership benefits, Bernardo Heights Country Club is in violation of state laws that prohibit discrimination based on sexual orientation, marital status and sex, Lambda Legal says in today's brief.

"Unfortunately, there is a history of discrimination at country clubs against African Americans, Jewish people and other minorities. 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," Davidson said. 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 her life partner, French, to the club only six times a year. In addition to limiting the number of times French can play with her life partner, the country club's policy forces the couple to pay greens fees between $50 and $75 per round of golf, while married spouses play for free, and does not allow the membership to be inherited by a non-spouse.

Davidson is the attorney litigating Koebke v. Bernardo Heights Country Club for Lambda Legal. Oral argument at the California Supreme Court is expected in 2005.


Contact: Fred Shank, 212/809-8585 ext. 267



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