Georgia Moves To

Legalize Discrimination Against Gays

by January 24, 2004

Atlanta, GA -- Legislation will be introduced by Republicans in the Georgia legislature Monday that would override Atlanta's anti-discrimination law and legalize discrimination against gays and lesbians.

The bill seeks to prevent the city from penalizing an exclusive country club which denies family memberships to same-sex couples.

Rep. Earl Ehrhart (R-Powder Springs), the chief sponsor of the bill said it would forbid any government in Georgia from sanctioning "any private social organization" if that organization's rules abide by the Georgia Constitution and the U.S. Constitution.

"I want to make it crystal clear," Ehrhart said. "If you comply with state law, you can't be punished."

Under Georgia law, marriage is legal only between a man and a woman, and the state constitution does not prohibit discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation.

Ehrhart is joined in sponsoring the bill by three other Republicans, including House Minority Whip Jerry Keen (R-St. Simons Island).

Atlanta's Human Relations Commission found Druid Hills Golf Club guilty of violating the city's anti-discrimination ordinance when it refused to allow family privileges to two members one of whom is gay the other lesbian.

The club, which charges a $40,000 initiation fee and about $475 in monthly dues, told Kyser and New that their partners were welcome to join but not as a families. Family rates are considerably lower than separate memberships.

The club argued that it willingly accepts gay members, but only extends spousal benefits to legally married couples. 

The finding has been sent to Atlanta Mayor Shirley Franklin who could order the club to change its policy or lose its business and liquor licenses.

Legal scholars, contacted by the Atlanta Constitution, are divided on the legality of the city's ordinance as it applies to clubs such as Druid Hills.  While some said that private clubs can set rules as they see fit, under the right to freedom of association guaranteed in the First Amendment, other legal scholars argue that the club operates like a public accommodation, such as a bar or restaurant, and therefore cannot claim the First Amendment protection.


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