"SORRY, Justice O'Connor, but you'll have to give back that golf cart. Charlie here wants to play, and it's men only until 9 o'clock, you know. Suppose you and your girlfriends come back another day when the men have gone to work. There's an opening on the first Monday in October at 2 in the afternoon. How's that?"
A farfetched scenario? Not at all, as a group of working women who belong to the Robin Dale Golf and Country Club in Prince George's County found out. The rules in that club prohibit women from using the course before 11 a.m. on weekends on the theory that men work during the week and are therefore entitled to have preferential time on the weekends. Three female members of Robin Dale have brought suit to overturn the rule, but the court must first decide whether the club is truly private or whether it is a public facility subject to anti-discrimination laws.
Similar rules apparently are common in area clubs. In some, women are banned from the tennis courts on weekends unless they are playing doubles with men. In others, facilities are available to women only during the middle of the day. There are even, we are told, clubs that won't tolerate female members or guests, but that's another story.
Does it make sense to have these hard and fast rules? Perhaps 20 or 30 years ago, when women with the affluence to pursue golf and tennis also had the leisure to play at any time. But in 1983 it is a laughable anachronism to assume that women do not have jobs and a clear injustice to give a retired man, for example, preferential time on the links over a working mother.
We can think of lots of rules that would make sense in the abstract but would be absurd in practice. Reserving evening hours in the supermarkets for those who hold full-time jobs. Requiring everyone without school-age children to take vacations in the winter. Allocating theater seats according to height. Not only would such rules be unfair--not to say nutty--they just wouldn't work. Such situations are best handled when reasonable people make sensible adjustments to accommodate the needs of others.
But when the very premise for the rule is wrong, as it is in the case of country club rules that assume that women do not have jobs, the only solution is to throw it out and try to reach an understanding between club members who are employed and those who are not. That's where the distinctions, if they are necessary, should be made; that's the basis on which adjustments and accommodations make sense.