ANNAPOLIS -- Women's rights activists and the American Civil Liberties Union yesterday took the first step toward appealing a ruling that overturned a landmark law denying city liquor licenses to private clubs that discriminate.
The ACLU filed a motion to intervene on behalf of two Annapolis women, a coalition of women's rights groups and the Maryland Human Relations Commission.
Four Annapolis lawmakers joined the request before Anne Arundel Circuit Judge James C. Cawood Jr., who blocked the 1990 law last month.
"We feel this is an issue of great importance to women, which should be decided by a higher court," said Susan Goering, legal director of the Maryland ACLU chapter.
Ms. Goering said she was "deeply chagrined" when the City Council narrowly voted against initiating a court challenge earlier in the week.
In a 14-page memo, attorneys for the ACLU argue that unless the intervention is granted, "no one will speak for women and minorities of the Annapolis community who wish to put a stop to invidious discrimination by the private clubs of their city."
The two women, attorney Paula Andersen and businesswoman Carol Gerson, want to be allowed to join an all-male Elks lodge.
Lodge 622 of the Benevolent and Protective Order of the Elks sued in September, charging the city overstepped its bounds by passing an ordinance more restrictive than state law. Judge Cawood sided with the 1,500-member lodge, which failed to persuade the national organization to change its bylaws to admit women, and allowed the club to renew its liquor license.
Amid emotional accusations of racism and sexism, the council decided not to appeal his ruling Monday night. The four council memberswho called it a setback for civil rights in Maryland's capital joined forces yesterday.
"No vote upset me as much as the one Monday night," said Republican Alderman Ruth Gray, who added her name to the motion yesterday signed by Democrats Carl O. Snowden, Samuel Gilmer and Ellen O. Moyer. "I think that law raised a lot of consciousness in the city."
After the law went into effect, the Annapolis Yacht Club admitted its first black member, the late Dr. Aris T. Allen, and opened its doors to women, she said.
Mr. Snowden, who wrote the law that became the first in the state to ban private clubs from discriminating, said he hopes the judge will understand its "historic significance."
This is the first time in the city's history that four council members have gone to court together, he said.