For fraternal spirit's sake, Annapolis should appeal


May 17, 1992|By ROGER SIMON

I am sure I have missed a great deal by never joining a fraternal lodge or private club.

I have missed the opportunity to wear funny clothes and funny hats, to know secret passwords and handshakes, to watch stag movies, drink until I throw up on my lodge brothers and then pass out, secure in the knowledge that the janitor will hose me off and put me back in my car in the morning.

Not that this is all that happens at these clubs. By no means. They also do Good Works.

This is essential. How else could the lodge members get out of the house? If they didn't have charitable activities to engage in, they would have to say:

"Honey, I'm going down to the Clam Lodge so me and the other Grand Exalted Fraternal Clamsters can watch stag movies, drink, throw up on each other and pass out. OK?"

See what I mean? Doesn't sound right. It is far better to be able to say: "Honey, I'm going out to build some low-cost housing with the Clamsters and then I'm going to drink, throw up and pass out. OK?"

I exaggerate somewhat. Some fraternal organizations and private clubs raise millions of dollars for worthy causes.

And, in return, all they want to do is to be able to discriminate on the basis of race, religion and sex. At least some of them do.

In 1990, the Annapolis City Council passed a law denying liquor licenses to clubs that had bylaws that discriminated on the basis of race, gender or ethnicity.

That law was a watered-down version of a bill that would have denied liquor licenses to clubs that discriminated in practice no matter what their bylaws said.

The difference is important. All the Eastport Democratic Club in Annapolis had to do to comply with the new law, for instance, was to eliminate the "white male" requirements from its bylaws.

But, as The Sun pointed out in January 1991, it then blackballed three women applicants. And the Annapolitan Club, which also was affected by the new law, "changed its membership rules but still appears to be all white and all male."

And that was OK under the law because the law just said you couldn't discriminate in your bylaws. It didn't say you couldn't discriminate in reality.

Which satisfied most clubs, but not Lodge 622 of the Benevolent and Protective Order of the Elks. Its bylaws excluded women. (The bylaws did not exclude blacks, though the lodge didn't have any blacks. But that was OK under the new law.) And local Elks chapters cannot change their bylaws without national approval.

The Annapolis Elks voted 48-3 to ask the national Elks convention to change the bylaws, but the national convention refused.

So the Annapolis Elks then felt they had two choices: move out of town or challenge the liquor license law in court. (The third choice, to stop serving liquor, was such a horrifying thought that it was never seriously considered.)

The Elks explored the first choice. Located in Annapolis for more than 90 years, they were willing to move out into the county if they could find a buyer for their lodge building. But they couldn't.

So they challenged the law in court. And they were successful. On April 16, an Anne Arundel Circuit Court judge overturned the law saying that while it might be "vital and laudatory" it had "nothing to do with the consumption of alcohol except that it would deprive the Elks of their license."

I completely disagree. The sale of liquor in Annapolis is a city-licensed activity. The city grants licenses to qualified applicants. And I believe it is reasonable and proper for the city to determine that an applicant is not qualified if he discriminates on the basis of race, gender or ethnicity.

I may be wrong. (It has happened before, though I can't think of any specifics.) Or, I may be right.

That is why cities appeal rulings by local judges all the time. You go to the next level of the judiciary and you see how you do there.

Except the Annapolis City Council recently voted 5-4 not to appeal the judge's ruling. The two black members on the council and two of the three women members condemned that vote as a setback for civil rights in Annapolis.

And I hope the city reconsiders.

Because I think the true promise of America is to create a nation where all people, black and white, red and yellow, male and female, rich and poor, can see dirty movies, get drunk and throw up together.

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