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How the AAA Motor Club of Washington Came
to Offer 2nd Member Discounts to Domestic Partners

by Demian
© January 1998, Demian

The AAA Motor Club of Washington fought nearly three years before allowing domestic partners a “second member” discount. It had previously only been available to married couples. The Seattle Human Rights Department, operating on a complaint from Demian, made it clear to the club that their refusal was in violation of a city ordinance prohibiting discrimination based on marital status. The Motor Club was finally called to defend their policies in a municipal hearing. They finally agreed to Demian’s request to offer the discount — one day before the hearing date.

Some other motor clubs appear to offer discounts to domestic partners. Sometimes getting the discount depends on the mood of the clerk, or, when not applying in person, whether the names are of indiscernible gender. However, the Washington club was the first to put its policy in writing.

It is of interest that, when considering this case, the Human Rights Department was unwilling to see it as anti-homosexual discrimination, even though the discount was rendered unavailable to same-sex couples by the marriage restriction. It is also of note that the Department demanded proof of Demian’s relationship — documents for car, housing and finances that where mutually signed — far in excess of anything demanded of married couples, who, after all, don’t even have to live together.

Lastly, the pursuit of justice is costly. If the club had responded positively, some might even say ethically, to the law and offered the discount, it would not have cost Demian and the Human Rights Department three years and un-tolled hours on copy machines.

Press release issued by Partners in 1991.
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.


Since reporting on the change of membership qualifications for AAA, many have contacted us reporting uneven responses as to how “spouse” was been interpreted by AAA in various states. Basically, they can interpret it any way they please. Sometimes different clerks in the same office offer different responses.

As far as we know, Western Washington AAA is still the only regional office that states explicitly that any household member can have a second membership at the reduced cost.

To find out about your status, you need to ask the local AAA office what their policy is, or just go together and sign up — nonchalantly assuming you are eligible for the second member discount.

Once you are a member, you will be bombarded by various offers from AAA, including insurance. When last we checked in 1998, the insurance carrier flatly refuses to offer “family member discounts” to same-sex couples.

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