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Archive for Tuesday, November 26, 2002

Augusta must admit women

November 26, 2002

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The question about admitting women to the Augusta National Golf Club is not a matter of law, but of decency. The Constitution ensures the right of freedom of assembly, which means the right to free association. We have the right, in other words, to socialize with whom we choose. But the way we exercise that right determines who we are.

People who say they would never invite an African-American, an Asian-American, a fat American or a short American to their home is simultaneously exercising a constitutional right and a propensity for bigoted boorishness. This is what Augusta National is doing by refusing to admit women.

There is no law against non-government sanctioned bigotry. There is, however, social stigma. Ladies Professional Golf Assn. commissioner Ty Votaw said, "It is Augusta's right as a private organization not to admit women. But it's not the right thing to do." This is an understatement. Imagine the outcry that would ensue if golf superstar Tiger Woods were denied admittance to Augusta because he is half African-American and half Asian-American. Augusta could do that, but such an action would make the organization look ignorant, foolish and bigoted.

America has always been concerned with gender bigotry last. The 15th Amendment to the Constitution, which was ratified in 1870, stated that the right to vote could "not be denied or abridged ... on account of race, color, or previous condition of servitude."

It was not until 1920 that the 19th Amendment, granting the same right to women, was ratified.

Today, politicians and judges have shortened careers if they join or remain in private clubs that discriminate against people on account of race or religion, but not on account of gender. Fifty years elapsed between ratification of the 15th and 19th amendments that made gender bigotry as illegal as racial bigotry. A lesser period is being taken to accomplish the same result regarding social bigotry.

Increasingly, Americans are realizing that bigotry is bigotry. America condemned South Africa when it separated the races through its policy of apartheid, and Americans are beginning to condemn Saudi Arabia and other countries for denying equal rights for women.

So we return to Augusta National, where a group of sexually insecure men find it necessary to exclude women. We should continue to acknowledge their right to do so, while simultaneously condemning the practice. Television networks and corporate sponsors should show their outrage by their corresponding exclusion of any entity or group that behaves so badly. Augusta and its members need to be stigmatized.

Stigmatization is the public's job, however, not the government's. There is no role for government unless government funds are being used, including tax exemptions. In the absence of these, the government needs to defer to the public's sense of outrage and decency. And the public needs to recognize bigotry for what it is: evil.

Prediction: Augusta National Golf Club cannot survive as a sexually bigoted entity. So it will change, and the self-inflicted harm it has created will be prolonged in direct relation to the amount of time it takes to make that change.

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