Nampa Rec Center denies family pass to lesbian couple

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A Lesbian couple from Nampa is challenging the city's policy of denying family recreation center memberships to same-sex couples.

"It's pretty obvious they're discriminating,” Rachel Dovel said about the Nampa Recreation Center's refusal to sell a family pass to her partner and their son.

Dovel and her partner, Amber Howard, wanted to get a family membership pass to the Nampa Recreation Center for themselves and Howard's 4-year-old son, Logan Henderson. According to Dovel, the Rec Center staff at first told them that they could get a family pass if they had legal documentation proving they were domestic partners—documentation that Dovel and Howard have because Dovel carries Howard on her insurance plan.

But when Howard returned to the Rec Center with the papers, the Rec Center denied them a family pass because Dovel and Howard aren't married under Idaho law.

We are a family even if we can't get married,” Dovel said. “The Rec Center is standing behind those laws as a cop-out.”

The family pass policy, which states that "the primary member and spouse must be legally married," didn't add up to Dovel. The Nampa Rec Center gives family passes to single parents. Moreover, Dovel and Howard checked with Howard's sister and brother-in-law, only to find out they hadn't been required to show their marriage license to get a family pass.


Nampa Mayor Tom Dale defended the city-owned Rec Center's policies, saying that they aren't designed just to exclude gays and lesbians. They also exclude roommates and unmarried couples who live together, he said. Rec Center staff have turned away unmarried heterosexual couples who wanted a family pass, he said. When the staff comes across a family pass application with different last names, it raises a red flag, he said.

The Rec Center's policies have nothing to do with sexual orientation, Dale said, but he said the center gives out passes only to families as defined under Idaho law—laws written to exclude homosexual couples from getting married in Idaho, adopting children together, or being recognized as a married couple if they were married in another state or country.


Marriage rights aside, Nampa's policy discriminates against gay couples by charging them more for identical services: Individual passes for three at the Rec Center would cost $400 a year more than the family pass, Dovel said.

Fortunately, the Caldwell YMCA allowed them to buy a family pass, which is good at YMCAs across the Treasure Valley. Although the costs are slightly higher than the Rec Center's family membership prices and they would have a longer commute, Dovel is grateful that the YMCA recognizes her family.

Other gyms, including the Idaho Athletic Club and Anytime Fitness, have also told Dovel they offer family memberships to gay and lesbian couples.

Dovel and Howard could still have gotten a family pass for Howard and her son in a single-parent family arrangement, while Dovel bought an individual pass, Dale said.

The Rec Center's family pass prices are so low they have to draw the line defining family somewhere, Dale said. “We have to protect the integrity of our funding structure,” he said. Otherwise, he said, “Any two people who happen to be roommates and say, 'Hey, we're family, give us a discount'—we would suffer financially.”

The Rec Center is funded strictly by membership dues, not tax dollars, he said.

Dovel said she plans to fight the Rec Center's policies. She and the editor of PrideDepot.com and members of other LGBT groups plan to rally and protest in front of the Rec Center.

We want to make this as big as possible because LGBT issues that are going on here aren't as out in in the open as in other places,” she said. “We don't want to get it changed just for us. We want to get it changed for everyone.”

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