State judges in California can no longer be members of the Boy Scouts beginning next year — at least until the Scouts lift a ban on gay adult leaders.
The California Supreme Court voted unanimously this week to eliminate an exception for youth nonprofits to a rule that prohibits judges from belonging to groups that discriminate based on sexual orientation.
The San Francisco Chronicle reports:
“The people of California have a right to an impartial and unbiased judiciary,” Richard Fybel, a state appeals court justice in Santa Ana and chairman of the high court’s ethics advisory committee, said Friday. “This is important to accomplishing that.” ...
In a statement that responded to the committee’s proposal last year, Deron Smith, a spokesman at Boy Scouts headquarters in Irving, Texas, said the Scouts “would be disappointed with anything that limits our volunteers’ ability to serve more youth. ... Today, more than ever, youth need the character and leadership programs of Scouting.”The proposal had drawn a mixed response from judges. In written comments to the court, one opponent said the prohibition would elevate “gay rights above religious freedom rights,” and another said it would interfere with judges’ rights to raise their children as they choose.
California judges have been barred from membership in groups that discriminate based on sexual orientation since 1996 — with the exception of youth nonprofits. In 2003, the state's high court amended the rule to say judges who are members of the Boy Scouts must disclose their affiliation in gay-rights cases and recuse themselves if there's a conflict of interest.
Last year, the ethics advisory committee recommended eliminating the exception altogether, and the proposal was backed by the California Judges Association, which represents three-quarters of the state's judges.
The Chronicle notes that judges can still be members of religious groups that discriminate, but not groups that discriminate based on religion. The Boy Scouts is not considered a religious group but does discriminate based on religion — barring atheists in addition to gays.
In 2013, the Boy Scouts of America voted to lift a ban on gay youth but continue to bar gay adult leaders. The organization recently reported that membership dropped 7.4 percent in 2014 in the wake of the decision.