Nampa ID Recreation Center Denies Same-Sex Families

UPDATE: It is a great honor to have just learned this story was quoted from, and included in, the prestigious Williams Institute September 2009 Memorandum: “Idaho Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity Law and Documentation of Discrimination”

The Williams Institute advances sexual orientation law and public policy through rigorous, independent research and scholarship, and disseminates it to judges, legislators, policymakers, media and the public. A national think tank at UCLA Law, the Williams Institute produces high quality research with real-world relevance.

Jody May-Chang©
February 2, 2009

What is a ‘Family’ and who gets to decide?

In late January a story broke in Idaho’s Treasure Valley about Amber Howard and Rachel Dovel, a lesbian couple raising Howard’s biological 4-year-old son, being denied a family membership at the Nampa Recreation Center; a facility owned and operated by the City of Nampa.

Amber Howard Rachel Dovel and son Logan denied a family membership at the Nampa Recreation Center in IdahoThe family was ultimately refused on the grounds that the women are not legally married. The couple claims they were told over the phone that they could acquire a family membership as long as they provided evidence of a domestic relationship.

Howard provided evidence that her partner’s employer recognized their relationship by including Howard on Dovel’s company’s health insurance plan. The city refused to consider the shared insurance coverage as proof of a relationship.

However, the center did offer Howard and the child a family membership, but Dovel would have to apply separately for an individual membership. This would cost the family $353 more than what other families, with an unlimited number of children, currently pay.

Ultimately the family opted to pay more and commute farther from their home for fewer services and resources to join the YMCA in Caldwell where they were welcomed without question or bias.

The law is the law, or is it?

On January 23, The Boise Weekly reported that Nampa Mayor Tom Dale was defending the Recreation Center policy based on, two basic criteria; Idaho law and money.

Nampa Mayor Tom Dale defends Amber Howard Rachel Dovel and son Logan being denied a family membership at the Nampa Recreation Center in Idaho“The center gives our passes only to families as defined under Idaho law.” Mayor Dale told The Boise Weekly. “We have to protect the integrity of our funding structure. Any two people who happen to be roommates and say, “Hey we’re family, give us a discount, we would suffer financially.”

“I pay almost $400 more a month to have Amber on my insurance, which is not something I would do for a roommate.” Dovel told

When pressed Mayor Dale on what law or laws he was referring to in his Boise Weekly interview, he was unable to reference one federal or state statue that would define a “family.”

“The qualifying factor of that is you have to be married and that provides the definition that allows us to function and to keep our rates low,”? said Dale. The Mayor says that dependent children who are claimed on tax forms, and the Idaho definition of marriage, is the criteria his city uses to define a family suitable for membership.

“We see it as a business and management issue,” said Darrin Johnson, Nampa Parks and Recreation director.

Both Johnson and the mayor indicated that it is the law that ties their hands in recognizing the two women and their child as a family.

“If the law in Idaho was changed to recognize that as marriage in the sate of Idaho we would not have a problem with it,” Mayor Dale said.

Johnson agreed saying, “The mayor is right, if it was a legalized approach it wouldn’t be an issue, we could manage that very easily.”

Johnson indicated that he recognizes the fact that heterosexual couples have the choice to marry while same-sex couples are not afforded that option.

“There’s no guarantee, how do we know if they would get married or not. So it would really change the price structure I think if we did something different, of course that’s our worry,” Johnson said.

The issue for Mayor Dale appears to be a matter of having a sense of consistency with their exclusionary policy.

He said that, “We have to be cognizant of potential unintended consequences of going against a policy or a definition in this case of marriage as is provided by the state of Idaho. We could find ourselves in a position of having ourselves painted into a corner of providing benefits to a lot of people.”?

Neither Dale nor Johnson could quantify the number of non-married heterosexual or same-sex couples that have applied and been denied family memberships Mayor Dale simply said that it has “happened many times.”? And he continued, “I doubt if they keep a record of that because it is not a statistic that has ever been important.”? Johnson could only verify that there were far more heterosexual couples than same-sex couples who have been denied family memberships.

Would the Nampa Recreation Center “suffer financially” by including same-sex couples?

Nampa Recreation Center in Idaho Discriminates against same-sex families“If every two people that just came in and said we want a family pass because we happen to be living in the same apartment or house together it would severely cut into the income and the revenue of the rec center,” says Johnson.

When the Mayor was asked if the Nampa Recreation Center would experience a financial setback should there be an influx of “legal”? families asking for memberships Dale said, “I can’t answer that one, I do not know.” took a deeper look into Dale and Johnson’s claim that NRC would suffer financially. We found that on the City of Nampa website the 2009 Department of Accomplishments (pg 28) states that for Fiscal Year 2008 they sold 6,116 memberships that amounted to approximately 13, 841 members. This would seem to suggest more family memberships than individual memberships.

We asked Johnson to provide the percentage of “family” to “individual”? memberships for that same period. That answer came in an email from Cody Swander, Nampa Recreation Center director, who said there were 2,857 family memberships, and 3,265 individual memberships. Both categories include charter members who joined at lower fees when the center was raising money to build the facility.

The Nampa Recreation Center’s annual membership fee structure includes:

  • Family memberships (one single or two married adults with any number of children) $634
  • Or, Senior couples for (65 or older) $509
  • Individual memberships (single adult 18 years or older) $353
  • Or, Single senior adult (65 or older) $281
  • Or, Single youth (17 or younger) $246

In our calculations below, we used the lowest family membership fee and highest individual membership fee to deliberately bias the outcome in favor of Dale and Johnson’s financial argument. However, what we actually found appears not to support their claims.

  • 2,857 family memberships at $509, this could potentially generate about $1.45 million in family revenue.
  • 3,265 individual memberships at $353 would only generate about $1.15 million.

The city’s argument about losing money by recognizing domestic relationships is dubious, indicating that the reverse is more likely, the center would actually make more money by allowing same-sex families.

Since the alleged threat of financial losses could be more public relations smoke than substance, the city needs another hook to deny families such as Howard and Dovel so they turn to what they claim is the legal definition of a “family” in Idaho.

What Mayor Dale needs to realize is that the city he manages already has a city code on the books that defines a family in terms that should provide legal grounds for this couple to acquire the family membership they are seeking.

In Title 10, Chapter 1 of the Planning and Zoning code the Part 2 definition of “family”? reads as follows:

“One or more persons related by blood, marriage, adoption or a group of not more than three (3) persons not related by blood or marriage, living together as a single housekeeping unit in a dwelling unit.”

Nampa City Codes is well supported by the United States Supreme Court in the 1974 case of “Village of Belle Terre v. Boraas” Which states, “The word “Ëœfamily’ as used in the ordinance means,

“[o]ne or more persons related by blood, adoption, or marriage, living and cooking together as a single housekeeping unit, exclusive of household servants. A number of persons but not exceeding two (2) living and cooking together as a single housekeeping unit though not related by blood, adoption, or marriage shall be deemed to constitute a family.”

Howard, Dovel, and their son classify as a “family” according to an existing Nampa city code.

The gay tax and the economics of discrimination

Nampa Recreation Center in Idaho Discriminates against same-sex familiesThe issue in Nampa is just one of countless examples of the unequal economic burden placed on gay and lesbian families. This is a policy that limits economic equality as we see in the additional after taxes cost Dovel has been paying just for Howard’s health insurance. Now the family is enduing unnecessary higher health club fees as well.

To protect their family rights, they must hire an attorney to assist them in protecting their interests which are automatically granted to heterosexual couples who have a marriage certificate.

This is a financial burden that is taking place all across this nation that also carries an emotional and quality of life cost. It takes its toll on children raised in same-sex headed households as they are not provided equal access to services and resources that children reared by heterosexual couples are automatically entitled to.

“I would like to take this discussion out of the realm of sexual orientation because it has nothing to do with sexual orientation”? said the Mayor, “It never has been about, in our estimation, an issue of judgment of any kind on same-sex relationships.”

If what the mayor is saying is true, then he seems to be contradicting himself. When Mayor Dale was asked if the law should be changed, he responded simply, “Personally I agree with the definition of marriage as being between a man and a woman.”

When asked if he would support avoiding using the word “marriage,”? but simply referencing the same rights and privileges, he replied, “I don’t know I would have to really look at that a lot closer, I am not prepared to answer on that.”

All of this debate over marriage rights is getting lost in the real issue of what constitutes a family. What really is a family?

Howard and Dovel did not go to the City of Nampa demanding that they be recognized as a legally married couple, they only asked that their family not be marginalized by politicians, bureaucrats and others who mask their contempt under a veneer religious ideology. This couple simply asks that they be recognized as a family that faces the same valleys and peaks as many other families across this country.

The City of Nampa is on the wrong side of equality and justice on this issue. The politicians can point to the law and the threatened ideologues can point to their scriptures, but in their misguided attempts to deny families such as this one an equal footing, they will be defeated.

“I believe in this era of ‘Big Government’, special interest groups, and PACs, the place in America where democracy works best is on the local level. It is at this level where average citizens can make their voices heard.” – Nampa Mayor Tom Dale, Phone: (208) 468-5401