Scouting organizations in California that bar open homosexuals as leaders and members could lose their state tax-exempt status if a bill is enacted.
The Youth Equality Act has a broad sweep, covering not only the Boy Scouts, Cub Scouts and Girls Scouts, but also such youth organizations as the Little League, Bobby Sox, Campfire Inc., Future Farmers of America, 4-H Clubs, Boys' Clubs, Girls' Clubs, Special Olympics, California soccer associations and Pop Warner football.
The proposed legislation "seeks to end the unfortunate discriminatory and outdated practices by certain youth groups by revoking their tax-exemption privilege, should they not comply with our nondiscrimination laws," said California State Sen. Ricardo Lara, an openly gay lawmaker who is also lead sponsor of SB 323.
"California does not tolerate discrimination, and by removing this [tax] exemption, we will make it clear to the Boy Scouts and all other organizations that discrimination has a real cost," said John O'Connor, executive director of Equality California, which also has been pushing the bill.
In addition to sexual orientation, the bill would require that youth-serving organizations eligible for state tax exemptions must also not discriminate according to "gender identity," meaning the Boy Scouts, soccer clubs, the Campfire girls and others would have to allow transsexuals as leaders.
Boy Scouts of America — which has the mission of raising boys to do their "duty to God and my country" and keep themselves "physically strong, mentally awake and morally straight" — has long had a membership policy that disallows people who openly identify as homosexuals from being Scout members or leaders.
Gay-rights groups and their allies have protested the policy, and BSA leaders are slated to put the policy to a vote in May.
Opponents of Mr. Lara's bill say it amounts to "extortion" and is discriminatory itself.
"The irony of the proposed law is that its blatant use of extortion — by holding nonprofit groups financially hostage — instills its own form of discrimination by trampling" individual and organizational religious beliefs, wrote Lori Arnold, a research analyst for the California Family Council.
"As religious-liberty groups have been saying for years, the day is fast approaching in California where sexual behaviors will legally prevail over religious freedoms," said Ron Prentice, chief executive of the California Family Council. "If Californians, especially the clergy, do not stand strong and united against these demands, religious speech from the pulpit will soon be targeted," he added.
Penny Nance, chief executive and president of Concerned Women for America, also pointed to the religious-liberties issue.
"This bill violates the U.S. Constitution by discriminating against groups based, not only on their viewpoint, which the Supreme Court has already made clear is unacceptable, but based on their deeply held religious beliefs which are expressly guaranteed by the First Amendment," said Ms. Nance.
The California Family Council said that if SB 323 is approved, it would be the first law of its kind in the country.
Because SB 323 is a tax bill, it will require two-thirds approval of both chambers. Democrats hold supermajorities in both legislative bodies.
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