A 1,500-member Annapolis Elks lodge failed yesterday to convince theorganization's national leadership to admit women and likely will lose its city liquor license as a result.
The Elks national convention, meeting in St. Louis, overwhelmingly rejected the Annapolis lodge's request that the organization's bylaws be changed to allow women, said James A. Bynum, the local lodge's exalted ruler.
Annapolis Elks Lodge 622 sought the change to comply with a new city law that denies liquor licenses to private clubs whose bylaws discriminate based on race, gender or ethnic background.
But the lodge won't lose its license before April, when it must seek renewal fromthe city's Alcoholic Beverage Control Board.
Alderman Carl O. Snowden, D-Ward 5, who sponsored the anti-discrimination bill last year,called the convention's vote to forbid women "extremely disturbing."
"The decision of the national Elks only exacerbates the polarization that exists in our society today," Snowden said. "It's unfortunate that women are being denied the opportunity to join a private club merely because of their gender."
Robert Dietz, an Annapolis attorney representing the lodge, said members would consider their options at a meeting early next month before deciding their next move.
"We're trying to do everything possible to comply with the new law," said Dietz, also a member of the lodge. "We're doing everything humanly possible to try to admit women."
Dietz added, however, that bylaw changes must win the approval of the Elks national membership. He predicted that the Annapolis lodge would not survive without a liquor license.
George Bond, who served as the lodge's exalted leader last year, has said the Elks might sue to overturn the law or sell its building, next to the Navy-Marine Corps Memorial Stadium, and move out of town.
In January, the City Council narrowly voted to extend the Elks' deadline for complying with the new law to Sept. 1. The lodge'sbylaws deny membership to women but not blacks. However, the club has no black members.
The extension marked the latest chapter in local and statewide battles by the American Civil Liberties Union and the Coalition for Open Doors to open the membership rolls of private clubs.
In passing the bill, Annapolis became the first municipality in Maryland to deny liquor licenses based on discrimination, Snowden said. He said he hopes the law will be a model to cities nationwide.
Mayor Alfred A. Hopkins said that while he opposes discrimination,he doesn't think liquor licenses should be denied to eliminate bias.
"I don't agree with discrimination in any way, shape or form," the mayor said. "But I don't think a liquor license should be denied because of discrimination. If it's private property, I think people should be allowed to have their liquor."