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Erik Burgess, Published February 27 2013

Fargo Park Board committee supports same-sex golf passes

FARGO – Park officials here supported a proposal Wednesday to broaden who can qualify for what has been called a “family” discount on season passes at Fargo’s public golf courses.

The issue was taken up by the park board after a lesbian couple legally married in Iowa was denied the pass earlier this month. The discount would save them about $100 on an annual pass to the city’s nine-hole golf courses.

The board’s facility committee met to discuss six new options to replace the existing family pass, which has required a couple to be able to legally file joint tax returns to qualify. All three park board members on the committee were in favor of rewriting the rules so that married same-sex couples would qualify.

Joel Vettel, the board’s president, recommended the park district look at the issue after Fargo couple Katy Kjelvik and Steph Rindy were denied a family pass. Vettel said the issue had never been brought forward before.

Kjelvik and Rindy were at the meeting, and Commissioner Joe Deutsch thanked them for bringing the issue forward.

“It’s kind of overwhelming, the positive support,” Kjelvik said.

The options considered included no policy change, offering a pass to couples married legally anywhere in the United States, eliminating the family pass, developing a “dual” pass for two adults in the same home, creating a discounted pass for one adult with a child and creating a “household” pass.

Vettel and Deutsch favored changing the family pass to a household pass. This would also provide discounts to single-parent homes, which can’t receive the family pass and would also not be covered by the proposed “dual” pass.

Jim Larson, the park district’s director of finance and human resources, said three criteria were considered in changing the family pass: Public golf courses should be easily accessible to the community, affordable for youth and the process to apply for a pass should not be complex.

“That’s what we’re talking about. What works best for the community of Fargo?” he said.

Deutsch said the existing policy discriminates against both same-sex couples and single-parent families, who weren’t eligible for a family pass.

The district sought legal counsel on the issue. In a memo, attorney Ryan McCamy of Nilles Law Firm advised that while the North Dakota Constitution defines marriage as between “one man and one woman,” its laws prevent discrimination based on marital status. Because of that, he advised the park district to avoid using the term or definition of “marriage” entirely.

Commissioner Mary Johnson said she would prefer that the word “family” stay in the title of the pass, calling the proposed name change a “philosophical dodge.”

“I think they qualify as a family,” she said of Kjelvik and Rindy. “I admire them greatly for their bravery in bringing this forward. Little did we know that we were stuck in the ’50s.”

Vettel said it is not the park board’s place to champion such issues.

“Our role is to work within the laws, to do all we can to accommodate the needs and respect the wants and needs of everyone in the community,” he said.

The five-member park board will discuss the issue at its March 12 meeting.


Readers can reach Forum reporter Erik Burgess at (701) 241-5518