Two Annapolis women and the American Civil Liberties Union yesterday won the right to appeal a ruling that overturned a law denying city liquor licenses to private clubs that discriminate.
An Anne Arundel Circuit judge, who blocked the 1990 law last month, granted a motion to intervene filed by the ACLU on behalf of the women, the Maryland Human Relations Commission and a coalition of women's rights groups.
But Judge James C. Cawood Jr. did not allow four Annapolis lawmakers to join the appeal. Two women and two black members of the City Council had joined the ACLU motion after they narrowly lost a council vote to appeal. Amid emotional charges of racism and sexism, the council decided May 11 not to challenge Cawood's ruling.
Two years ago, Annapolis became the first jurisdiction in Maryland to pass a law barring private clubs from discriminating based on race, sex or ethnic background. Lodge 622 of the Benevolent and Protective Order of the Elks sued in September, charging the city had overstepped its bounds by passing an ordinance more restrictive than state law.
Cawood sided with the 1,500-member lodge, which tried but failed to persuade the national organization to change its bylaws to allow women. His April 6 ruling cleared the way for the club to renew its city liquor license.
Susan Goering, legal director of the Maryland ACLU chapter, told the judge yesterday that the ruling would have a statewide impact. Other counties have passed laws that prohibit discrimination based on sexual orientation, and his decision could weaken those measures, she said.
"This kind of ruling, were it to stand, would have a chilling effect," she said in an interview after the judge granted the ACLU's motion.
Attorneys for the Elks lodge charged that the motions came too late and did not meet the "extraordinary circumstances" under which such petitions are usually granted. They later said the Elks lodge would appeal the judge's decision.
Goering said the Human Relations Commission has a high stake the case because the agency is charged with enforcing the state's "public accommodations law." Last month, the Elks successfully argued that Annapolis' ordinance was stricter than the state law, which exempts private clubs.
Yesterday, Glendora C. Hughes, acting general counsel for the Human Relations Commission, said the agency has supported all attempts to strengthen the law. Baltimore recently passed an ordinance prohibiting discrimination based on sexual orientation, as has Montgomery County, she said.
The ACLU has until Friday to send a notice of appeal to the Maryland Court of Special Appeals.
Alderman Carl O. Snowden, who introduced the legislation
amid controversy in 1990, said he was "delighted" the ruling would be appealed. "Whether we [the aldermen] would be granted an appeal doesn't make any difference. Essentially, all we needed was that one motion be granted," he said.
In seeking the appeal, Annapolis attorney Paula Andersen and businesswoman Carol Gerson said they wanted to be allowed to join the Elks. Goering said yesterday that several other women in Annapolis would like to join the charitable club for professional reasons.