The California Supreme Court has taken another step to formally oppose the Boy Scouts of America’s ban on LGBT adult leaders: State court judges may no longer participate in the BSA. Judges have a year to end their relationships with the organization, which in 2013 lifted its ban on LGBT youth Scouts, but not on adult leaders.
This is an extension of an earlier decision in California, which said in vaguer terms that judges couldn’t belong to groups which discriminate against members based on sexual orientation. Until now, youth groups had been an exception to that rule.
Judges have long been barred from joining organizations that limit membership based on characteristics like religion or gender, but they are of course allowed to practice whatever religion they choose, even those with homophobic or otherwise discriminatory teachings.
State judges and other officials have had mixed reactions to the news, according to NPR.
One common sentiment:
The Boy Scouts declined to comment for this story. But many people, like San Diego Judge Julia Kelety, are upset.
“The issue is whether individual judges can choose in their private lives to be involved in an organization that has tremendous qualities and provides tremendous support for young people,” she says.
Kelety has deep ties to the group. Her brothers were scouts, her dad was a scout leader and she’s chairwoman of her two sons’ troop.
“And I don’t think that a person appearing in my court would think that I’m biased or unfair simply because I help my sons out in their Boy Scout troop,” she says.
Robert Glusman is former president of the California Judges Association, which supports the ban.
“Would a judge be able to join an organization where black men could not be part of the organization? I don’t think that would be as close a question,” Glusman says. “Here we’re dealing with gay men or LGBT. So we put it in a slightly different framework, but there is something that rankles many of the judges about that.”
When it comes down to it, according to Harvard Law Professor Noah Feldman, the BSA is considered a secular organization that nonetheless practices a discriminatory policy, so requiring judges to stay out is justified — for now. But Feldman also told NPR that the Supreme Court may eventually take on the issue of judges’ free association rights, and that could lead to a reversal of this particular decision.
“You have a free exercise right to pray where you wish. And you have a free association right to belong to whatever club you wish to belong to,” he says. “And I don’t actually think the distinction between the two is constitutionally justified.”
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