Coalition backs law banning private club bias

July 20, 1992|By Angela Gambill | Angela Gambill,Staff Writer

The African American-Jewish Coalition of Anne Arundel County announced its support Friday of those who are appealing a court decision that would allow an all-male Annapolis Elks lodge to keep its liquor license.

A county Circuit Court judge overturned the Annapolis law on April 16 that denies city liquor licenses to private clubs with membership bylaws that discriminate on the basis of race, gender or ethnic background.

A number of Annapolitans, including City Councilman Carl O. Snowden, who helped get the law passed two years ago, have gone to court to appeal that ruling.

The AAJC adds its voice to Annapolis City Council members Ruth Gray, Ellen Moyer and Samuel Gilmer, along with the Maryland Commission on Human Relations, the Coalition for Open Doors and Annapolis residents Carol Gersen and Pamela Andersen. The American Civil Liberties Union, which supported the passage of the law, is also pursuing an appeal.

The AAJC was founded a year ago to help eradicate bigotry in Annapolis and Anne Arundel County.

Said Donald Aronson, co-chairman of the AAJC: "Thirty years ago, we had elected officials standing in school doors advocating segregation among the races; 30 years later, we have local elected officials fighting to open up the memberships of private clubs."

Mr. Aronson said success "seems promising in light of a number of landmark decisions which the United States Supreme Court has handed down in the past decade."

These decisions made clear that private clubs that impose blanket barriers to membership based on immutable characteristics will not be protected from state or local government rejection, said Mr. Aronson, a leader in the Annapolis Jewish community.

The Annapolis Elks, a tax-exempt organization, does not admit women. The organization points to national membership policy that compels the local group's stance on the issue.

The Elks contend that the lodge's membership criteria have nothing to do with the operation of its cocktail lounge, which is open to female guests and members of the club's women's auxiliary.

Under the 1990 law, Lodge 622 of the Benevolent and Protective Order of Elks would not have been allowed to renew its liquor license, which expired at the end of April.

The lodge challenged the law, resulting in the April ruling by Circuit Judge James C. Cawood Jr.

Vincent Leggett, co-chairman of the AAJC, said his organization recognizes that "for more than 90 years the Annapolis Elks has existed in our city and made charitable contributions. However, philanthropic contributions must not be allowed to be an excuse for on-going policies and practices which deny membership solely based on race or gender."

Mr. Leggett pointed to the Annapolis Jaycees, who successfully challenged their national organization's policy of excluding women from membership. This challenge led to the organization accepting women nationally.

Concluded Mr. Leggett: "It shows how far we have come and how far we have to go."

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