University of Memphis student Edie Love wanted her two kids to have a place to swim this summer, but her attempt to buy a family membership from the university's Student Recreation and Fitness Center turned into an equal-rights battle with a happy ending.
Earlier this month, Love and her partner were turned down for a family membership after the school refused to accept the couples' domestic partnership papers. The school requires proof of a legal union for family memberships.
"We were told the university had to follow state law, which says that only marriages between a man and a woman could be recognized," Love said. "As soon as we got home, we hit Facebook, and people started finding out and calling the school president's office."
As a result, the university quickly changed its tune. University of Memphis counsel Sherri Lipman did some research and found that East Tennessee State University, another Tennessee Board of Regents school, has plans to institute a family membership policy for domestic partners at its gym July 1st.
"They'll require certain documents, like a statement of understanding in which people say they live together as a family," Lipman said. "But the whole idea is to say that we recognize that it's important for us all to have a healthy lifestyle."
Lipman said the University of Memphis received final approval from the Board of Regents last Wednesday to change its policy and accept domestic partners. The policy will be modeled after the one at East Tennessee State, but the U of M's rec center will begin offering memberships to gay families immediately.
Joe Smith, a spokesperson with East Tennessee State, said the university previously had a policy that allowed employees and students to join with anyone. But its new policy limits family memberships to spouses, dependents, and domestic partners.
"We have a nondiscrimination policy that does include sexual orientation. That's why we included domestic partners," Smith said.
The University of Memphis, however, required a little pushing. Lipman said Love could have joined with her kids for a family membership. Her partner, who is not a student at the school, could have come as Love's guest for a $5 fee.
"This isn't about access at all. This is a question of how much you pay," Lipman said.
For Love, it was a question of equal treatment for gay and lesbian families.
"We didn't start all of this to make the university look bad," Love said. "We just wanted to swim at the pool with our kids."