Del. Luiz Simmons (R-Montgomery) says there is a difference between clubs that practice "invidious" sexual bias and other groups that historically have practiced "harmless, noninvidious" discrimination.
Simmons, whose remarks startled some members of the Montgomery County delegation, delayed action on a bill to bar tax exemptions for private clubs that discriminate by asking for a staff study on the measure. The bill, introduced by a task force headed by Sen. Victor Crawford, would prohibit exemptions from county and local amusement, admissions and property taxes for private groups in Montgomery that limit their memberships on the basis of race or sex.
"I'm not trying to suggest that discrimination based on sex is not wrong . . . but we don't want to apply this thing willy-nilly to an illogical extreme," Simmons told the delegation before he requested a staff report defining the types of clubs that might fall under the sexual-discrimination restrictions.
In particular, Simmons said he wanted to ensure that some groups, such as the Chevy Chase Women's Club, do not lose their tax-exempt status. He cited the women's organization as an example of a club whose exclusionary membership policies do not appear to be based on any "evil" intent to segregate or to bar members of the opposite sex from making important business contacts.
Democratic Del. Idamae Garrott, however, differed sharply with Simmons over his distinction between harmful and harmless sexual discrimination. She equated his remarks with the type of arguments that have barred women from making the business contacts that are frequently made in social clubs.
"We've got to fight discrimination based on sex everywhere," said Garrott. "Many of us (women) feel that business affairs take place in these clubs. They have a right to have private clubs if they want them, but when it comes down to giving tax breaks with public money, they should either admit women or lose their tax break."
Later, Simmons, the only Republican so far mentioned as a candidate in this year's Montgomery County executive race, reiterated his opposition to sexual discrimination but said the "exclusionary practices" of some private clubs were not always intended for an "exclusionary purpose." In particular, Simmons made the distinction between organizations such as the county's exclusive, all-male Burning Tree Country Club and clubs that have primarily philanthropic or educational purposes.
Simmons also underlined his longstanding opposition to tax breaks for country clubs. In the past, he has tried to push through the General Assembly bills to eliminate property tax breaks that country clubs now enjoy, but he has not renewed that effort this year. Instead, a less restrictive bill, gradually increasing the amount of property tax country clubs would pay, has been introduced by a task force made up of members of the Montgomery delegation.