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Lesbian Couple Win a Round

Appeals court rules that a judge should hear the partners' arguments in trying to obtain spousal privileges at a San Diego country club.

March 09, 2004|Tony Perry | Times Staff Writer

SAN DIEGO — A state appeals court Monday gave a partial victory to a lesbian couple fighting for spousal privileges at the golf course where one of the two is a member.

In a 3-0 decision, the 4th District Court of Appeal ruled that the case filed by Birgit Koebke and Kendall French against the Bernardo Heights Country Club should return to the Superior Court for a possible trial.

The justices ruled that the plaintiffs' lawyers deserve the right to argue that the club discriminated against the couple by granting spousal privileges not just to married couples but also to unmarried heterosexual couples. The club denies that.

Superior Court Judge Charles Hayes last year threw out the case before trial. The couple, backed by the American Civil Liberties Union and gay-rights organizations, appealed Hayes' dismissal.

The appeals court, however, declined to rule that the club's policy of allowing spouses of members to play free at the course violates state law, which bans discrimination based on gender or sexual orientation.

The plaintiffs had argued that the rule unfairly discriminates against gays and lesbians because the law does not permit same-sex marriages. The court disagreed.

"The [appeals court] decision basically strengthens the reason that same-sex couples deserve the right to be married," said Jon Davidson, an attorney for Lamda Legal, which defends gay rights cases across the country.

An attorney for the country club said that the club can easily prove that only married couples were allowed to benefit from the spousal rule.

"It seems to me that the fact the court did not charge or modify the law in any way should be considered a victory," said John Shiner, attorney for the country club, where Koebke, a television marketing executive, has been a member since 1986.

Under club rules, French, an employee of a car dealership, can only accompany Koebke as a guest six times a year, paying $50 to $70 green fees each time.

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