Bill to curb club bias is killed

April 09, 1994|By Marina Sarris | Marina Sarris,Sun Staff Writer

After an emotional debate in which lawmakers recalled their own painful experiences with prejudice, a House of Delegates committee yesterday killed a bill that would have denied liquor licenses to clubs that discriminate.

With a 13-10 vote, opponents won the day by arguing that the state legislation would have hurt the Sons of Italy and other clubs trying to preserve ethnic identities.

"Its heart is in the right place but, by wiping out things that are so a part of our society, it does enormous violence to our culture," said Del. John A. Hurson, a Montgomery County Democrat on the Economic Matters Committee.

Del. Connie C. Galiazzo, summed up that view with a story about her experiences.

When she was growing up in Baltimore, she said, people called her grandmother a "dirty Indian" because she was a Native American.

When the delegate was 18, she was turned down for jobs because of her gender.

But now, she said, her grown sons belong to the Sons of Italy and Knights of Columbus, groups that help them learn about their ethnic and Roman Catholic heritage.

"I don't think we have a right to take that away," said Ms. Galiazzo, a Baltimore County Democrat.

Actually, the bill would not have taken away the rights of discriminatory groups to exist.

The measure, which had passed the Senate last week, sought only to deny liquor licenses to clubs that have rules, regulations or bylaws that exclude members because of race, gender, religion, physical handicap or national origin.

The bill would have had a definite effect on Elks clubs because their national bylaws prohibit women from becoming members. As amended by the House committee, it also would have covered religious groups such as the Knights of Columbus, which excludes non-Catholics.

Clubs that discriminate in practice, but not in their bylaws, would not have been affected.

The proposal might not have applied to such 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.

The bill's supporters said such clubs foster segregation that robs blacks, women or others who are denied entry an opportunity to socialize and make professional contacts.

"When you lived a life where your possibilities have been limited from your date of birth, it's hard to go against something that would open up possibilities," said committee Vice Chairman Elijah E. Cummings, a black delegate from Baltimore.

He said that when he was young his grandmother told him that generations of his family had waited for a time when racial discrimination would end. But she advised him, "Don't you wait."

"This [bill] steps on the toes of those who want to be together because of gender or race. But there is something much greater than that -- to have opportunity," he said.

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