Is men's clubbiness an affront to women?

IS what's good for the Junior Chamber of Commerce necessarily good for Rotary International? Most assuredly, say most women's and civil rights groups - if we are talking about admission of females to these traditionally all-male social bastions.

Not necessarily, counter Rotary and other representatives of men's civic groups. These groups - for purposes of legal argument, if for no other reason - now are trying to distance Rotary from the Jaycees.

The Jaycees had their day in court - the United States Supreme Court - three years ago and they lost their right to exclude women. Now the Rotarians are being tested by the high tribunal on this same issue.

The justices voted 7 to 0 (with two abstentions) in 1984 that a Minnesota law barring discrimination on the basis of race or sex in places of ``public accommodation'' applied to the Jaycees. Consequently, the Jaycees were required to accept women members.

It remained unclear, however, whether this ruling would apply to other all-male clubs, such as Rotary and Kiwanis. Associate Justice William J. Brennan stressed in the Minnesota case that the Jaycees were a ``large and basically unselective'' group and thus governed by state public accommodation statutes that ban discrimination.

The court also rejected at the same time the argument that forcing a group to admit certain types of members against its will was a violation of Constitutional ``freedom of association'' guarantees. Justice Brennan allowed, however, that this right also ``plainly presupposes a freedom not to associate.'' He added, however, that this was not absolute.

Now many of the same arguments are being aired in a California case involving Rotary's removing the charter of local chapter in Duarte that admitted women contrary to the overall policy of the club.

National Rotary's rationale is that, unlike the Jaycees whose ranks are open to virtually all males who apply, this civic group is private and exclusive, and its applicants are carefully screened as to their individual professional goals.

Chicago lawyer William P. Sutter argued recently before the Supreme Court that a California law banning discrimination based on race, sex, religion, and national origin should not govern Rotary, because it unduly interferes with the constitutional right of Rotarians to associate with whom they please. And the nature of this club, he said, should exclude it from such a public accommodations law.

Los Angeles attorney Judith Resnick - representing the local Duarte chapter that had admitted women - pointed out that Rotary is not strictly a private club, but more like ``a service and business organization.'' Hence, she reasoned, it should come under public accommodations requirements.

Ms. Resnick added that the ousting of the Duarte chapter from the parent group and Rotary's male-only membership policy is a ``message to women that we're second-class citizens, not part of the business community's leadership.''

How the high court rules on the Rotary matter could have broad implications for civic organizations that practice gender exclusivity across the nation. The Boy Scouts and Girl Scouts, among others, could be affected.

Meanwhile, many public jurisdictions are grappling with this issue on their own.

Now more than 30 states have statutes that prohibit discrimination in places of public accommodation, including restaurants and hotels. And women's groups and civil rights agencies across the US are pushing scores of local male-only private clubs to open their doors to females.

One device, reported recently by the National Law Journal, is to try to block liquor licence renewals for all-male clubs under antidiscrimination statutes. Actions of this kind now are under consideration in California, Maine, Montana, New York, Pennsylvania, and Washington, D.C.

Administrative and legislative moves against gender discrimination are also underway to end discrimination in professional clubs.

For instance, the American Bar Association adopted a resolution calling for an amendment to the public accommodations section of the federal civil rights act that would cover ``business clubs.'' This resolution now has taken the form of proposed Congressional legislation.

Federal lawmakers have also been asked to consider a bill that would deny business tax deductions for expenses incurred at clubs or other facilities that discriminate on the basis of sex, race, color, religion, or national origin.

A Thursday column

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