Elks protest anti-bias bill targeting liquor licenses

April 06, 1994|By John W. Frece | John W. Frece,Sun Staff Writer

Members of Elks lodges from across Maryland -- and members of their women's auxiliary, the Ladies of the Elk -- yesterday protested proposed legislation that could strip their clubs of liquor licenses because their national bylaws prohibit women from becoming members.

Without liquor licenses, Elks spokesman Frank J. Webber predicted, attendance at club events would decline and the 34 lodges in Maryland would no longer be able to raise the money they contribute to youth athletic leagues, scholarships, services for veterans and other causes.

"Who will go with me to explain to the veterans in the Veterans Hospital that we no longer have the funds available for equipment and programs?" he asked members of the House Economic Matters Committee in Annapolis.

The panel is considering a bill passed 38-9 by the Senate last week that would deny liquor licenses to clubs that have rules, regulations or bylaws that exclude members because of race, gender, religion, physical handicap or national origin.

Supporters of the measure say such clubs foster a form of segregation that robs blacks, women or others who are denied )) entry an opportunity to mix, socialize and make professional contacts.

Del. Elijah E. Cummings, a Baltimore Democrat, said it was unfair for the Elks or any club to cater to young people in youth leagues, "but when that child grows up and comes to knock on the door and says, 'I want to belong,' they can't get in.

"It sends a message to people they're not good enough no matter what they do," he complained.

As lawmakers have had more time to study the legislation, many have concluded that it would only have a definite effect on the Elks.

Del. Michael E. Busch, the Anne Arundel County Democrat who heads the Economic Matters Committee, said his panel is caught in a Catch-22. In an election year, members want to pass legislation to prohibit discrimination. But he said the bill sent over by the Senate may not do that.

Under its provisions, Mr. Busch said, a club could discriminate in practice as long as it did not have any written bylaws requiring it to discriminate.

The proposal therefore might not apply to such prestigious men-only clubs as Bethesda's Burning Tree Country Club or the Maryland Club in Baltimore. Both have historically excluded women from membership. But it is unclear whether they do so by practice or by written rule.

Mr. Busch said the bill could put the committee in the uncomfortable position of taking a liquor license away from Elks but not from Moose clubs, even though in most respects the activities and procedures of the two clubs are similar.

Unlike the Elks, Moose clubs do not have bylaws explicitly prohibiting women from joining. But, like the Elks, the Moose have a male-only division and a separate female-only division. A lobbyist for the Moose said yesterday he thought Moose clubs would be in compliance if the anti-discrimination bill passed.

In contrast, the Knights of Columbus, which have 23,000 members in 97 councils throughout Maryland, discriminate in two ways: They require that members be male and practicing Roman Catholics. But they are not covered by the bill.

In an effort to gain political support for the measure in the Senate, an amendment was tacked onto the legislation that specifically exempts religious organizations such as the Knights Columbus.

Mr. Busch said he expects his committee to vote on the bill by Friday and said the panel could decide to amend the measure. But an amended bill, if passed by the full House, would have to go back to the Senate -- where it could get caught and possibly killed in the crush of end-of-session legislation.

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