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Gay Boy Scout Ban Overturned

Now, more than ever, James Dale thinks he deserves the citizenship badges he earned as a Boy Scout. New Jersey's highest court has ruled in his favor, declaring that the organization's ban on homosexuality is illegal.

"This victory means that the Supreme Court of New Jersey agrees with me that scouting is not about bigotry. Scouting is about something so much better and so much grander than that," Dale said after the ruling.

Wednesday's victory was a long time coming for this Eagle Scout, reports CBS News Correspondent Jacqueline Adams. Nine years ago, Dale revealed he was gay. Despite a decade as an exemplary scout, leaders expelled him from both his local New Jersey troop and the national Boy Scouts of America.

Dale sued and lost, when a lower court declared that homosexual acts are immoral. Indeed, the Boy Scouts argue that their code of conduct demands that Scouts be morally straight.

In today's ruling, though, the Justices unanimously rejected that view, writing "the Boy Scouts of America's expulsion of Dale was based on prejudice and not on a unified Boy Scout position."

The Justices concluded the human price of this bigotry has been enormous. "It is unquestionably a compelling interest of this State to eliminate the destructive consequences of discrimination from our society," the ruling continued.

"This is exactly what scouting is all about: equality, fair play, community, and standing up for the rights of people," Dale said.

Among New Jersey's scouting families, though, some would like to see the ban on homosexuality continued.

"It's an activity that is immoral and should not be the kind of thing that is promoted or treated as equal," said Jolene Strieff, whose sons are Boy Scouts.

Strieff says she's not anti-gay, but, like her sons, she's worried about scouts sharing close quarters.

"I don't have anything against homosexuals," said 17-year-old Boy Scout Greg Strieff. "I think I would -- if we were on the same camping trip, sharing a tent -- I think I'd feel awkward."

The Boy Scouts of America plans to appeal the New Jersey ruling to the U.S. Supreme Court.

The Scouts' spokespeople won't appear on camera, but they insist that as a private, voluntary association, the Boy Scouts have a First Amendment right to establish membership and leadership standards. And homosexuality, they say, does not fit that standard of leadership.

The court decision, which upholds a lower court ruling, rejected "the notion that Dale's presence in the organization is symbolic of Boy Scouts' endorsement of homosexuality ... Dale has never used his leadership position or membership to promote homosexuality, or any message inconsistent with Boy Scouts' policies."

Attorneys at the Lambda Legal Defense and Education Fund, which represented Dale in court, were overjoyed by the decision.

"It's a great day for our client, but also for oth lesbian and gay people who want to join the Boy Scouts," said Beatrice Dohrn, legal director for the group. "It's also a great day for other people in the Boy Scouts who got a message today of inclusion rather than one of discrimination."

Dale earned 30 merit badges, seven achievement honors and other awards, and the rank of Eagle Scout during his 12 years in the organization. He was expelled by the Monmouth Council of the Boy Scouts in 1990 after the group learned from a newspaper article that he was gay. He sued.

A lower court judge ruled in the Scouts' favor in 1995, calling homosexuality "a serious moral wrong" and agreeing with the Boy Scouts that the group is a private organization and has a constitutional right to decide who can belong.

In overturning that decision, an appeals court in March 1998 said Dale's "exemplary journey through the Boy Scouts of America ranks is testament enough that these stereotypical notions about homosexuals must be rejected."

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