SEATTLE (CN) – A gay softball league did not violate anti-discrimination laws by enforcing a team limit on the number of heterosexual players, a federal judge ruled.
“Admitting straight and closeted players would affect in a significant way the existing members’ ability to carry out their various purposes,” U.S. District Judge John C. Coughenour wrote Thursday, granting partial summary judgment to the North American Gay Amateur Athletic Alliance (NAGAAA).
Three bisexual men sued the league in April 2010, claiming they were kicked out of the Gay Softball World Series because they weren’t gay enough. The three men were playing for a San Francisco softball team in the finals when a rival team challenged their sexuality, citing the rule that caps the number of heterosexuals per team at two.
In addition to claiming that the league’s conduct constituted discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation, Steven Apilado, LaRon Charles and Jon Russ also alleged racial bias. Two of the plaintiffs are black, and one is black and Filipino.
Coughenour refused in June 2011 to quash the limit on straight players, finding that there was no “compelling state interest in allowing heterosexuals to play gay softball.”
The league showed it was an “expressive association,” and forced inclusion of unwanted members would affect its “ability to express its viewpoints,” according to that decision, which called for further briefing to weigh the league’s interest in expressive association against the state’s interest in eradicating discrimination.
But five months failed to change the tide in the bisexual players’ favor. Precedent involving discrimination against women in public accommodations “do not have the force that plaintiffs hope,” Coughenour wrote Thursday. Rather, the cases “all support the thrust” of the league’s argument that the state interests should be narrowly defined to a particular form of discrimination.
“Indeed, if state public-accommodation statutes truly prohibited discrimination against all groups and in any form, then freedom of association would be toothless,” he added. “Plaintiffs have not shown, and the court cannot find, any reason to believe that the state interest in eliminating NAGAAA’s exclusionary policies outweighs NAGAAA’s associational rights. Accordingly, the First Amendment protects NAGAAA’s membership policy from Washington’s public-accommodation laws.”
Coughenour also found that the players don’t have a racial discrimination claim, but can still proceed with claims for damages for breach of contract, economic and emotional distress and invasion of privacy.