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An all-male Annapolis Elks lodge has gone to court to challenge a city law denying liquor licenses to clubs whose bylaws forbid female members.

In its lawsuit, filed in Anne Arundel County Circuit Court,Elks Lodge 622 contends the city overstepped its legal bounds in adopting an ordinance more restrictive than state law.

The suit also claims the city law is unconstitutional because it exempts religious organizations and argues that the city lacks the authority to base liquor license eligibility on a private club's membership criteria.

Some 350 members of Elks Lodge 622 voted unanimously last month to mount the legal challenge.

The lodge's decision tosue came after its leaders failed in a July bid to persuade the Elks' national leadership to allow a bylaw change so the club could admitwomen.

The 90-year-old Annapolis lodge had sought the change to comply with the city law, which denies liquor licenses to private clubs whose bylaws discriminate based on race, gender or ethnic background.

Under the city anti-discrimination law, which took effect Jan. 1, the 1,500-member lodge would automatically lose its liquor licensein April when it seeks renewal.

Without revenue from liquor sales, the lodge could not survive, Elks officials say.

Robert A. Dietz, an Elks member and one of two attorneys representing the lodge, said the club had done everything possible to comply with the anti-discrimination law, but added that bylaw changes must win the approval of the Elks national leadership.

Alderman Wayne C. Turner, who sponsored a January measure approved by the City Council that extended the Elks deadline until Sept. 1, said he planned to introduce legislationthat would allow the club to keep its liquor license.

The Ward 6 Republican argues that it's unfair to penalize the local lodge for a decision it had no control over.

Turner also said the compromise anti-discrimination law the City Council passed after more than two years of debate unfairly targets the Elks while other private clubs discriminate with impunity. Clubs whose bylaws allow blacks and women but deny them entry in practice face no sanctions.

Carl O. Snowden, D-Ward 5, who sponsored the anti-discrimination bill, has vowed to resist any attempts to weaken it.

City Attorney Jonathan A. Hodgson declined comment.

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