Auto Club Agrees to “Family Discount” for same-sex couples|
SEATTLE — In a settlement of a Seattle human rights complaint brought by a gay man, AAA Washington has extended its requirements for “associate” membership to include domestic partners and other residents of a “primary” member’s household. The auto club’s board of directors approved the settlement March 14, 1991.
The discounted associate membership previously had been reserved for the primary member’s spouse or dependent children age 23 and under. Effective immediately, the change will be incorporated into AAA’s membership literature and direct mail advertising at its next printing, according to terms of the settlement.
Civil rights attorneys say the settlement is the first in Washington state and one of only a few nationwide to prevent a business from discriminating against same-sex couples. It is believed to make AAA Washington the first and only AAA chapter in the nation to formally accept same-sex partners as associate members.
The settlement stems from a complaint made to the Seattle Human Rights Department March 1988 by Demian, a Seattle resident with a single legal name. In June 1990, the department determined that the former AAA policy discriminated on the basis of marital status when it told Demian that his domestic partner was ineligible for associate membership.
Primary membership in the non-profit organization costs $45 for the first year; $35 for subsequent years. Associate membership costs only $17 yearly.
Demian and his domestic partner of 10 years, Steve Bryant, purchased a AAA membership immediately following the board’s decision. The two men publish the nationally distributed Partners Newsletter for Gay & Lesbian Couples. [Note: This evolved into Partners Task Force for Gay & Lesbian Couples. See our article: Welcome]
“We welcome the opportunity to become AAA members under fair terms,” said Demian. “It just didn’t make sense to buy two full memberships for the one vehicle we share.”
But he emphasized, “This is a much larger victory. It means that AAA will now equitably serve a diversity of families, including extended families, seniors who share housing, and opposite- and same-sex domestic partners.”
The human rights department rejected AAA’s defense that its former policy was warranted by “tradition and economic reasons.” AAA alleged that serving spouses and dependents would be less expensive than serving other household residents. The auto club subsequently resisted compliance with the law for nearly three years until the day before the matter was to have gone before a Seattle hearing examiner.
Seattle law prohibits marital status discrimination in public accommodations. Unlike a similar state law, the Seattle ordinance specifically extends protection to cohabiting couples. Nonetheless, AAA says the new policy will apply throughout its service area, which includes Western Washington and most of Central Washington.
“We hope this settlement demonstrates to Seattle businesses that families of all descriptions — including those comprised of same-sex partners — must be afforded equal access to family discounts,” said Demian.
“Unfortunately, the discrimination we encountered with AAA is all too common,” said Bryant, pointing to Partners’ National Survey of 1,266 same-sex couples conducted by Partners.
In the study, 20 percent of the female couples and 11 percent of the male couples said they had encountered membership-related discrimination.