Men only or liquor?
That's the decision Utah Elks must make within the next 45 days.All Utah men's clubs with liquor licenses, including Elks, Moose, Eagles and the American Legion, must change their bylaws to allow women as members by Aug. 13 or face revocation of their licenses, the Utah Alcoholic Beverage Control Board decided Tuesday.
Utah licenses 47 men's clubs for liquor.
"It was a tough decision to know what to do," board member Nicholas E. Hales said. "(But) we cannot as a commission allow licensees to openly violate the law."
The Utah Supreme Court ruled in May that the St. George Elks Lodge violated the Utah Civil Rights Act when it refused membership to Sandra Beynon, a woman. With 1,600 members, the St. George lodge is the largest in the state.
Private club liquor licenses, including those held by the 16 Utah Elks lodges, then came up for a July 1 renewal, and the alcohol board had to decide what to do in light of the court's ruling.
Brian Barnard, attorney for Beynon, urged the board to deny renewal since the bylaws of all Utah Elks lodges, except Roy's, still mandate the exclusion of women.
"What they're saying is the opinion of the Supreme Court doesn't matter," he said.
The Elks, however, asked the board for a 90-day grace period to gather their members for a vote on the bylaw change.
"This is a rush to judgment - punitive if you will - to punish us for denying Ms. Beynon for membership," said Philip Fishler, attorney for the Elks' national organization. "I would urge that we be given time to put our house in order."
After a lively meeting, filled to capacity with concerned Elks, the board made a Solomonic decision: renew the licenses, but require all clubs receiving renewals - not just the Elks - to notify the Alcoholic Beverage Control Department within 45 days that they are admitting both sexes equally.
Clubs that do not make the notification will lose their licenses, board Chairman Jerry D. Fenn said.
"The commission did what it thought was fair," said Michael R. Shaw, attorney for the St. George Elks. "(But) I personally don't think we can comply with it within 45 days." Shaw said it would be hard to gather the lodge members for a vote before August.
Utah Elks face a tough decision. If they continue to exclude women, they will lose their liquor licenses, but if they decide to admit women they may be cut off from the national Elks organization, reducing their funds and forcing them to give up the Elks name.
All Elks lodges must comply with their national organization's bylaws, which prohibit women as members. There are 1.5 million Elks nationwide.
"I'm a true Elk - that's all I can tell you," said Chuck Goode, exalted ruler of the Bountiful Elks lodge. "Everyone wants to comply with the law, but if we do, the national organization - we'll just have to wait and see what the national organization will do."
Utah Elks are asking the national organization to change its bylaws in its annual meetings next week. If its bylaws are changed, Utah Elks can admit women, keep their liquor licenses and still remain Elks.
"Men learn a lot from men," said James L. Szatkowski, vice president of the Utah Elks Association. "(The lodge) is one of our primary ways to communicate together. Women - it's a different way of communicating."