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Last Updated: Thursday, 13 January, 2005, 17:29 GMT
Gay rights row over US golf club
Lee Kyser outside the Druid Hills golf club
Lee Kyser paid $40,000 to join the exclusive club
A Georgia golf club that is resisting an order to grant spousal benefits to members in same-sex partnerships has sparked a battle over gay rights.

The Atlanta club's defiant stand has angered gay activists and prompted threats of criminal prosecution and fines from city officials.

Now a bill has been submitted to the local legislature which would repeal the city's anti-discrimination law.

Atlanta is home to the largest gay community in the American South.

Republican Representative Earl Ehrhart, who sponsored the proposed bill, says it would forbid the state or any local government from penalising private groups for engaging in what he describes as lawful expression.

"What these militant homosexuals are seeking is special rights, not equal rights," Mr Ehrhart wrote in a recent editorial in the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, the city's largest newspaper.

Fine threat

The 1,100-member Druid Hills Golf Club has ignored a ruling that it violates city law by not giving spousal benefits to the partners of gay members.

Atlanta mayor Shirley Franklin has threatened to impose a $500-a-day fine on the golf club.

The ruling came after two gay members of the golf club, Lee Kyser and Randy New, filed a complaint in July 2003.

Ms Kyser and Mr New asked the club to give their partners the same benefits that spouses are given - the right to attend alone and to bring guests, and the right to assume the membership should they die.

The club does not extend these benefits to unmarried heterosexual couples.

Druid Hills responded to the ruling filing a lawsuit challenging the city's anti-discrimination law.

The club's lawyer, Emmet Bondurant, says the couples knew the club's rules when they joined.

"The club's really fundamental position is that it simply doesn't discriminate based on sexual preference," he said.

"It knowingly admits people who are gay, and treats unmarried heterosexual and homosexual couples in precisely the same manner."

The row comes after Georgia and 10 other states passed constitutional amendments banning gay marriage or same-sex unions.


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