ATLANTA (AP) — A fight between the city of Atlanta and a country club that doesn't want to give gays spousal rights has inspired a GOP lawmaker's bill that would block cities from punishing groups that want to exclude gays.

Rep. Earl Ehrhart, new chairman of the powerful Rules Committee, said his bill introduced Wednesday was meant to stick up for the right of free association.

``There's certain associative rights that people have,'' Ehrhart told reporters. ``This isn't meant to discriminate against anyone.''

The Druid Hills Golf Club, a pricey club in the hills near Emory University, is fighting a city penalty for not granting spousal benefits to gay partners.

The club says it shouldn't have to follow the city's gay-rights policies because it is a private club. Mayor Shirley Franklin and gay-rights activists counter that while the club has a right to exclude gays, it has no right to city permits and can't compel Atlanta to issue them to groups that discriminate.

After a long showdown, Franklin recently told Druid Hills she would fine the club, prompting a golf club lawsuit challenging the city's anti-discrimination law.

Ehrhart called the city action unconstitutional, saying private clubs have the right to choose their members. He patterned his Druid Hill bill after a 2000 U.S. Supreme Court ruling protecting the Boy Scouts from penalty for excluding gay scout leaders. Ehrhart's bill says cities may not penalize or withhold benefits from ``any private social organization engaged in lawful expressive association.''

A spokeswoman for Franklin did not immediately return calls for comment on Ehrhart's proposed bill. The measure now heads to the House Judiciary Committee for consideration.