The New Jersey State Supreme Court ruled Wednesday that the Boy Scouts of Americas ban on homosexuals is illegal under anti-discrimination statutes. Claiming constitutional rights of free association and speech, the organization plans to ask the U.S. Supreme Court to uphold its right to exclude gays.
At the heart of the ruling is former Eagle Scout and Assistant Scout Master James Dale, who was ousted from the group in 1990 when leaders learned from a newspaper article that he was gay. And as CBS News This Morning Co-Anchor Mark McEwen reports, he couldnt be more thrilled with the courts verdict.
"It is wonderful. I'm delighted," says Dale. "It doesn't get any better than unanimous. When I grew up, I didn't know I was gay. I was looking for community, a place where I felt like I fit in and belonged. The Boy Scouts did that for me. For some, it was baseball or soccer. For me, it was the Boy Scouts."
The court said that the private organization is subject to state laws because it is a "place of public accommodation" and so cannot deny any person "advantages, facilities and privileges" on account of sexual orientation.
Written by Chief Justice Deborah Poritz, the ruling dismissed assertions by the Boy Scouts that the words "morally straight" and "clean" in the Boy Scout Oath constitute a statement against homosexuality and allow it to keep gays out.
The court doubted young boys "ascribe any meaning to these terms other than a commitment to be good."
"Nothing before us...suggests that one of the Boy Scouts' purposes is to promote the view that homosexuality is immoral," the decision reads.
The ruling contrasted with a March, 1998 decision by the California Supreme Court in favor of the Boy Scouts. That ruling, also unanimous, said the organization was not a business and was therefore free to exclude gays, as well as atheists and agnostics. The U.S. Supreme Court refused to hear an appeal of that decision.
"I've learned that the wheels of justice grind slowly," says Dale. "But the Boy Scouts taught me not to walk away, but stand up to things like this. They taught me to believe in something, and the challenge that I have here is something I believe in down to my very core."
The court also said Dale's presence in the group would not symbolize an endorsement of homosexuality, and it rejected the Boy Scouts' contention that striking down their ban violates the group's First Amendment rights.
Dale earned 30 merit badges, seven achievement honors and other awards during his 12 years in the organization. He says he would like to return to the Boy Scouts, but the promised appeals will likely stall that.