The Annapolis City Council is to vote tonight whether to extend the deadline on a law denying liquor licenses to clubs that discriminate on the basis of race, gender or ethnic background.
If the deadline is not extended, some clubs face the possibility of losing their liquor licenses April 1.
Tonight's vote is one day before the birthday of the late civil rights leader Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. Alderman Carl O. Snowden, D-Ward 5, a local civil rights leader, and the sponsor of the bill that was passed into law, did not let the coincidence of the vote and the birthday observance escape him.
"I think it's most appropriate that a city that observes his birthday, a city that prides itself on its liberal reputation, will have an opportunity to vote on its beliefs," Snowden said. "I am not one to believe it [the city] will live up to its reputation."
After much controversy before its passage last February, and a 5-4 vote, the law went into effect quietly Jan. 1.
However, the Annapolis Elks Lodge 622 is asking the council to extend the deadline until Sept. 1. The Annapolis chapter voted last year to ask the Elks national convention to change its bylaws and remove the word male from its bylaws. The national convention meets in July.
And, while the bylaws do not prohibit membership on the basis of race or ethnic background, Elks Lodge 622 has no black members.
There is, however, another Elks Lodge in Annapolis. Lodge 175 has a predominantly black membership. All but one of its current members is black. The lodge also has women as members of the Daughters of the Elks.
"Historically blacks have been excluded from being members [of Lodge 622]," Snowden said. "Bylaws used to say members had to be white, male and 21.
"You have to have someone sponsor you for membership. In 100 years there has never been a black member," Snowden added.
Jack Johnson, house chairman of Lodge 175, said its white counterpart is a private club that wants to remain private, which includes the exclusion of blacks.
"We are the Elks Lodge of the world," Johnson said. "We have always been open to anyone. We didn't have to change our laws."
But the passage of a law is quite different from enforcing it. The difficulty will be in proving that a club has discriminated against an applicant because of gender or race.
When clubs go to renew their liquor licenses in April, they will have to submit a copy of their bylaws and sign an affidavit stating that the bylaws do not prohibit membership on the basis of gender or race.
If it is discovered that a club is violating the law, the club may be subjected to having its license suspended or revoked.
All of the clubs affected by the law have changed their bylaws.
The Eastport Democratic Club has changed its bylaws to admit women. But of the three women who applied for membership, none were accepted. The club also has no black members.
The Annapolitan Club also has changed its bylaws. It has neither women or blacks as members.
The Annapolis Yacht Club has changed its bylaws to admit women. It has two women and one black member.