Senate approves women-only health clubs

Posted: Friday, February 25, 2000

JUNEAU (AP) -- A bill allowing women-only health clubs passed the Senate on Thursday.

Senate President Drue Pearce sponsored the measure after the Alaska State Commission on Human Rights told two Anchorage health clubs that their women-only policies violated the state's discrimination laws.

''There are a lot of women who absolutely refuse to go to health clubs because they're absolutely intimidated,'' said Pearce, R-Anchorage.

The bill would also allow all-male health clubs. It allows physical fitness facilities to admit only men or only women to protect members' privacy interests.

It's an exception to state law that forbids the operator of a public accommodation from denying access based on ''sex, physical or mental disability, marital status, changes in marital status, pregnancy, parenthood, race, religion, color, or national origin.''

Paula Haley, the human rights commission's executive director, said the commissioners oppose the bill on principle. A commission hearing on the Anchorage clubs is scheduled for this spring.

In recent years, some all-male organizations have been forced to admit women under the argument that they were excluded from the business opportunities and contacts available in such institutions.

But Pearce said it's unlikely that anyone could make such a constitutional argument against the clubs in question.

''There is presently no one trying to close these clubs except the human rights commission,'' Pearce said.

The measure passed the Senate 17-3 and now will move to the House.

Sen. Kim Elton, D-Juneau, called the bill a step backward from anti-discrimination law.

Elton was also troubled by the vague definition of physical fitness facility, saying it could be broadly interpreted to include golf courses and similar facilities.

''They're addressing a discrete situation with a broad-band approach,'' Elton said. '''That gives me a little heartburn.''

Two years ago, lawmakers in Massachusetts passed a similar law to resolve a similar situation, and several other states protect all-male and all-female gyms.

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