Friday, May 23, 2003

Rights & Reason: The Gender Wars Continue

The Associated Press reports on a curious new Wisconsin law:

Wisconsin fitness centers can bar men or women from joining their clubs under a bill Gov. Jim Doyle signed Monday that exempts the gyms from the state's anti-discrimination laws.

Doyle said he hoped the legislation would encourage more people to exercise regularly, pointing out women lobbied for the bill because they said they felt more comfortable working out at a fitness center that caters only to them.

"Government should do everything we can to encourage physical fitness and if this bill can help encourage women to exercise by offering a supportive environment, then it deserves our support," Doyle said.

Wisconsin law prohibits discrimination in public accommodations based on sex, race, color, creed, disability, sexual orientation, national origin or ancestry.

The law creates a narrow exception for fitness centers.

It defines a fitness center as a place "that provides as its primary purpose services or facilities that are purported to assist patrons in physical exercise, in weight control, or in figure development."

Sen. Judy Robson, D-Beloit, opposed the bill, fearing someone could use the definition to justify a men-only golf course or similar venture.

She said the legislation opens the door to discrimination and creates the possibility it will spread to other public accommodations.

"Women have fought for years to end gender discrimination, especially in athletics," Robson said. "Now that we have arrived at almost full equality, this could set us back."

I'm not sure what's worse: Robson using a specious sex discrimination claim to argue against a bill women asked for, or Governor Doyle tying the constitutional right of free association to some government-approved cause like promoting "physical fitness."

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