In a Rochester case, what constitutes a family and whether a business must recognize it as such, even if the state doesn't, is now up to a judge.
ROCHESTER - Inside the sprawling Rochester Athletic Club on the fringe of the city is a unique community gathering place called "The Neighborhood."
It features an ersatz town square with a miniature golf course, an artificial ice rink, a gym and a "cafe in the park." Building facades are painted on the walls to make the giant room look like an idyllic small town village. The slogan is: "Where families grow together."
But there's trouble in the neighborhood, and it's over what constitutes a "family," and who gets to decide.
A district judge in Olmsted County is now considering whether a precedent-setting discrimination lawsuit against the club and owner John Remick will proceed or be dismissed.
If allowed to continue, the suit will determine whether the club must give a lesbian couple and their 11-year-old child a family membership.
The family membership would save them about $500 per year.
Amy and Sarah Monson, who are supported by the organization OutFront Minnesota, attempted to buy a family membership at RAC last year. They were denied because they are not legally married.
They sued this year, claiming RAC discriminates based on sexual orientation, a violation of the Minnesota Human Rights Act. They say the rejection caused them anxiety and emotional distress.
The club currently offers family memberships to legally married couples only, with no consideration to their sexual orientation, argues attorney Gregory Griffiths. He argues the couple's beef is with the Minnesota Legislature, not the club.
"The questions in this case should not be about the political choices made by the Minnesota Legislature or about whether a person agrees or disagrees with the RAC policy," he wrote in his argument for the case to be dismissed. "The question is whether the RAC treats people who are gay, lesbian, or bisexual different from those who are not. It does not."
The Monsons were offered single memberships instead, which cost about $40 more per month.
Litigants have strong views
The Monsons live high on the hills overlooking Rochester in a white house with an American flag out front. A red truck outside has a rainbow decal, along with a bumper sticker that reads: "I love my wife."
Amy Monson is an English teacher at Rochester Mayo High School and is on the school's Diversity Council. Sarah Monson is a nurse. They exchanged vows in a 2002 ceremony, and Sarah took Amy's last name, according to attorney Philip Duran.
Remick is a director of Fastenal Corp. in Winona and is a large contributor to Republican candidates. According to press reports, Remick has also been a generous contributor to his Catholic high school, and in 1988 joined other Fastenal officers in giving $5 million to Winona's Catholic schools.
First case of its kind in state
The case is unique in Minnesota, but similar cases in other states have yielded mixed results, according to Duran. While older cases tended to favor defendants, plaintiffs have been more successful of late.
Duran said the athletic club admitted in court that it doesn't check to make sure heterosexual couples are really married. He also said the Olmsted County Human Rights Commission tried to mediate, but the club refused to take part.
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