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Same-sex couple denied 'family' golf pass in Fargo

FARGO - A Fargo gay couple legally married in another state says they may shoot for birdies elsewhere after being denied a discounted family pass to the city's public golf courses.

Katy Kjelvik and her wife, Steph Rindy, who were legally married in Iowa in 2011, were told Tuesday that they can't receive a family pass from the Fargo Park District because the courses base their policy on state law, which defines marriage as strictly between a man and a woman.

"It's just kind of infuriating the way they responded," said Kjelvik, a Fargo native who has golfed in the city since she was a child. "It made it seem like it was out of their hands."

The park district follows Internal Revenue Service guidelines, meaning those who can apply for the family pass have to be able to legally say they are "married" when they file taxes, said Jim Larson, the district's director of finance and human services.

"We actually answer this question more often for (an unmarried) heterosexual couple that's living together versus a gay/lesbian couple," Larson said. "And we respond the same."

The $860 family golfing pass allows access to all of Fargo's 9-hole courses - El Zagal, Prairiewood and Osgood. Adult passes to the courses cost $478, so the couple would save about $100 with a family pass.

Larson said the definition of what constitutes a family should come from "a larger, higher level of authority with a better purview in making that definition."

"We're not defining what is a family because we are not capable of it. That's not our role," he said.

Kjelvik said local officials should be able to decide the question on their own.

"The Fargo Park District is not run by the state," she said. "It's a local, city (entity). I pay my taxes here. I have for many years and, you know, being a part of my local community, I should be able to have this right."

In Moorhead, gay couples have been able to receive discounts at the city's golf courses and pools for years using a "household" pass.

Two people need only have the same permanent residence to apply, said Holly Heitkamp, the city's recreation division supervisor. Moorhead policymakers began making citywide changes like that in 2007.

"It was in an effort to be more inclusive," Heitkamp said. "Throughout our system, we recognize (same-sex marriages)."

Kjelvik said she and her wife are putting out calls to other local golf clubs, seeing who will let them play with the family discount.

"If they're (Fargo) not going to accept it, absolutely we'll go over to Moorhead," Kjelvik said. "I'm not going to support something that doesn't support me back."

Fargo Park Board President Joel Vettel said board members hadn't heard of the issue until after The Forum contacted park officials Wednesday. He said the board will discuss the policy at either the facilities committee meeting at the end of February or the golf committee meeting in early March.

"Obviously the media was aware of it prior to us, which is unfortunate," Vettel said. "If issues are brought to us, we want to address them quickly and as efficiently as possible."

Vettel said in his nine years on the board, the issue hasn't been broached by either staff or residents. He said he'd prefer residents with issues about park polices bring them directly to the board.

"Utilizing the proper channels (the park board) would be far more appropriate and certainly save a lot of hard feelings and a lot of problems," he said.