- Associated Press - Friday, June 24, 2016

PROVIDENCE, R.I. (AP) - A yacht club that allows full membership to men only is being urged to change its policy or face a possible lawsuit.

Steven Brown of the state chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union said Friday that the organization believes the Westerly Yacht Club is violating state law by bestowing membership on men only. Wives of members may be non-voting associate members. Single women can’t join, and divorced women lose their status.

The club voted last week to maintain the policy. The club’s commodore, Scott Howard, told The Associated Press earlier this week that he believes the policy is legal. He did not immediately return a phone message Friday.

While clubs have a right to associate without government interference, Brown said there were several reasons that state laws on antidiscrimination apply.

“It is our understanding that the club opens some of its facilities to non-members, serves as an important networking opportunity for businesspeople in the community and has benefited from state and federal funds over the years,” Brown said.

He added that the ban on female members wasn’t a political viewpoint but rather “an archaic vestige from another era when women were treated as second-class citizens.”

Women are allowed to serve on committees, organize parties and do other work at the club.

“This being 2016 and not 1916, we trust the club will immediately change its policy and welcome women as full members,” Brown said.

Brown said several women connected to the club who want to change the policy have approached the ACLU, but they don’t want to sue for fear of retaliation. He said the ACLU looks forward to working with anyone else adversely affected by the policy to address the issue.

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