Lesbian couple loses appeal in health club discrimination case


by Andy Birkey • A Minnesota appeals court judge upheld a ruling on Tuesday (pdf) that found it legal for the Rochester Athletic Club to deny a family membership to a lesbian couple because the couple is not married. The case spotlights an instance where Minnesota anti-discrimination laws — some of the toughest in the country — are ineffective so long as same-sex couples cannot marry.

Amy and Sarah Monson have been together for seven years and are raising a daughter together. They co-own a business, have joint finances, and had a commitment ceremony in 2002. They have drafted estate plans for themselves and their daughter, and Sarah changed her last name to Monson.

Andy Birkey lives in Minneapolis. He is an LGBT community advocate and blogs on politcial, social, and community issues. Read his blog at Eleventh Avenue South

The Rochester Athletic Club had a policy that only married couples could apply for a family membership package. The courts have said that since unmarried heterosexual couples also cannot get the discounted membership the policy does not constitute discrimination based on sexual orientation. But the Monsons contend that since they don’t have the option to marry, they should not be compared with unmarried heterosexual couples who have the option to marry.

After four attempts to resolve the matter with the club, the Monsons filed suit in 2007, alleging a violation of the Minnesota Human Rights Act, the 1993 law that prohibits discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity.

The Minnesota Court of Appeals denied their argument on Tuesday and upheld a previous Olmstead County judge’s decision.

The case highlights another instance of legal discrimination in Minnesota: Because the Monsons cannot marry, they can legally be discriminated against.

Even the judge in the original decision saw the flaws in the system. Judge Kevin Lund called the health club’s policy “anachronistic” and an “unrealistically narrow definition of family” that “fails to recognize the underlying stability and commitment of the Monsons’ relationship,” a relationship that he said functions “as a loving family unit and would otherwise be married or have entered into a permissible legal domestic partnership if allowed by our Legislature.”

The Monsons may appeal the case to the Minnesota Supreme Court.