Originally created 01/13/04

City to hear country club discrimination case



ATLANTA -- The city of Atlanta will hear a discrimination complaint against a country club Monday filed by two couples who say the country club discriminates against same-sex couples by denying them the perks given to other families.

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, Dr. Russell Tippins, who is a radiologist.

But Druid Hills Golf Club has refused, citing bylaws that 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.

The complaint filed by Kyser and New will be heard and potentially decided Monday by Atlanta's Human Relations Commission. Because Georgia is one of four states without an anti-discrimination law, the commission is the only place their 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."

After the Human Relations Commission hears the case, the group will pass its decision to the mayor, who will have 30 days to respond. If New and Kyser win, the club probably will be asked to change its policy.

If it refuses to do so, the city could yank its business and liquor licenses. If Druid Hills Golf Club wins, Kyser and New could take their case to Municipal Court.

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 Randy New to do so, too.

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."

Druid Hills Golf Club's position, according to general manager Randy Delaney, is that "a domestic partner is not a spouse, and the club has been consistent for generations in its unwillingness to recognize any form of spousal equivalency, no matter what the gender, sexual orientation or equivalent status might be."

He said the club operates under various city licenses, and therefore might be bound by the city's anti-discrimination ordinance. That ordinance, passed in 2000, prohibits any person or organization doing business in the city from discriminating on the basis of sexual orientation, among other identifiers.

"However, there are literally thousands of city licenses held by Atlanta businesses which now recognize a distinction between a spouse and a domestic partner," he wrote in a fax Jan. 9.



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