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Club fined over gay rights issue

Atlanta Mayor Shirley Franklin has fined the Druid Hills Golf Club $90,000 for violating the city's human rights ordinance after the country club refused to extend spousal benefits to the partners of its gay members.

It is the first time the 4-year-old ordinance, which requires that any couple registered as domestic partners with the city be treated as married people, has been enforced in one of the country's most gay-friendly cities. Club leaders, who consider the ordinance unconstitutional, have pledged to fight the fine.

The case centers on two gay club members, Randy New and Lee Kyser, who want full spousal benefits for their partners, including golfing privileges and the right to visit the club whether the members are present or not.

They also are seeking the right to transfer membership rights to a partner if a gay club member dies. Currently, the club only grants such privileges to people who are married.

Franklin wrote to club president Kent Smith on Dec. 22 that she is ordering the city solicitor to fine the club $500 a day, up to 180 days, for a total of $90,000 unless the city changes its benefits policy.

"Atlanta has a very proud history of promoting and celebrating diversity," Franklin wrote in her letter. "Given the club's failure to address the issues internally, I am compelled to act."

The mayor and Smith could not immediately be reached for comment.

The club's board responded with an e-mail to its 1,100 members saying they would fight the fine because Franklin has no jurisdiction to impose the penalty and that the city's ordinance attempting "to dictate the Club's membership policies are invalid."

"Our policies are non-discriminatory," the e-mail stated. "While we regret this matter has still not been resolved, Druid Hills Golf Club is prepared to defend its position."

The case had dragged on unresolved throughout the year. A city commission that reviews discrimination declared in January the club violated gay rights by not providing the benefits to its gay members. Franklin had urged the two sides to compromise but mediation efforts failed.

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