Steven Brown, executive director of the ACLU of Rhode Island, issued the following statement today in response to the controversy surrounding the Westerly Yacht Club barring women from being full members of the club:
“The ACLU has read with interest the recent news stories about the Westerly Yacht Club’s policy barring women from being full members of the club.
“The ACLU fully appreciates that private clubs have a general First Amendment right to associate without government interference – a right that we support. However, that right is not absolute. In this case, it is our understanding that the Club opens some of its facilities to non-members, serves as an important networking opportunity for business people in the community, and has benefitted from state and federal funds over the years.
“It also seems clear that the ban on women members is not because the Club seeks to express some sort of political view about the role of women, but is instead simply an archaic vestige from another era when women were treated as second-class citizens in a wide variety of settings. Indeed, under this antiquated policy, even a woman’s auxiliary status is dependent on her husband not divorcing her or dying.
“Times have changed, as have our laws. Based on these facts, we believe that the Club’s actions constitute a violation of both the state’s Civil Rights Act and Rhode Island laws banning sex discrimination in public accommodations.
“This being 2016 and not 1916, we trust the Club will immediately change its policy and welcome women as full members. Otherwise, we look forward to hearing from any individuals who are adversely affected by the Club’s discriminatory policy so we can work with them to address this unacceptable state of affairs.”