Club Unfair to Gays, Court Is Told

Times Staff Writer

A local country club refused to allow a lesbian couple the same golfing privileges as married couples for fear the club would look “gay friendly” and open a “floodgate” of applications from homosexual couples, their attorney told an appeals court Monday.

The attorney for the club denied that it was discriminating against gays, explaining that it had a policy of allowing spouses of members to play golf for free. Courts have upheld other cases of rules that bestow privileges on spouses that are denied to unmarried partners, the justices noted.

But Jon Davidson, attorney for Birgit Koebke and Kendall French, argued that having a policy favoring married couples discriminated against gay couples because gays cannot marry in California.


Koebke and French are suing the Bernardo Heights Country Club because French is not allowed the same privileges as spouses of club members. Koebke is a member of the club; the couple have been partners for a decade and own a home in the Tierrasanta neighborhood.

Their suit was filed after negotiations with club officials seeking a change in the policy were unsuccessful.

“We tried to take away the fear,” said Koebke, 47, a marketing executive at a local television station. “We tried to show them we’re just two all-American gals who want to play golf.”

Koebke paid $18,000 for a club membership in 1986. Because they are unmarried, French, 41, an employee of a car dealership, cannot play the course for free like a spouse of a club member and cannot inherit Koebke’s membership. French can only accompany Koebke as a guest six times a year, paying the $50 to $70 greens fees each time.

When the club governing board refused to change the rule, Koebke said she was told that the club was concerned about being seen as “gay friendly.”

The lawsuit, filed in 2001, was dismissed last year by a Superior Court judge. The couple are now asking the 4th District Court of Appeal to overrule the lower court and order the case to trial.


A three-judge panel of the appeals court appeared to be leaning toward sending the case back to Superior Court Judge Charles Hayes but not on the grounds that a rule bestowing privileges on married couples is illegal discrimination against gay couples based on sexual orientation.

Rather, the judges appeared concerned that the former general manager of the club had said that heterosexual couples -- unmarried and divorced -- were sometimes allowed spousal privileges. Grandchildren have also been allowed to play for free, according to court documents.

“They were willing to make exceptions for everybody but this couple,” Davidson told the court.

John Shiner, attorney for the country club, called the assertion by the former general manager “a nit in the wind” that is not significant enough to merit a trial. A few instances of rule-breaking do not qualify as a “policy, pattern or procedure,” Shiner said.

The three justices seemed to disagree. “That’s not a nit in the wind, is it, what the general manager said?” asked Justice James McIntyre. “We’re not talking about a stray comment from a member.”

Justice Patricia Benke said the general manager’s comment might be enough to establish that the policy, in effect, targeted homosexual couples because it was not enforced against unmarried heterosexual couples.


The court’s ruling is expected within six weeks.