Boy Scouts could lose tax break for gay ban
Updated 11:21 pm, Tuesday, February 19, 2013
California would strip the tax-exempt status from youth organizations like the Boy Scouts if they have policies that bar gay people from participating, under a bill introduced at the Capitol Tuesday.
The measure, SB323, by Sen. Ricardo Lara, D-Bell Gardens (Los Angeles County), comes as the national Boy Scouts of America is considering changes to its policy barring gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender people from serving as scouts or as leaders in the organization.
The amount of financial benefits scouting organizations in California receive through their state tax-exempt status is not clear, and backers of the measure said they would seek that information from the Franchise Tax Board and Board of Equalization as the bill moves through the legislative process. Proponents did say the measure would affect the Boy Scouts in particular, and hope a push in California will add pressure to the national scouting organization, based in Irving, Texas, as leaders there consider any changes.
"I thought it was necessary for California to make sure we don't condone the discriminating practices of youth groups like the Boy Scouts of America," Lara said about the timing of the bill as the national organization wrestles with whether to make a change. "We've given the Boy Scouts ample time, and they've chosen not to address this issue."
Under what backers are calling the "Youth Equality Act," tax-exempt organizations - including student groups or sports and activity groups organized through public or private schools - would be barred from discriminating on the basis of sexual orientation or gender identity. If passed, it would be the first such law in the country to revoke the tax-exempt status of youth organizations.
Backers say they don't believe such a change in law - which adds "sexual orientation" and "gender identity" to the nondiscrimination policies of tax-exempt youth organizations - would affect any other major group. Girl Scouts of the USA has had a nondiscrimination policy for more than three decades.
Because the measure involves changes to California's tax code, it would require a two-thirds vote of the Legislature in order to pass.
Lara said he was particularly motivated by the situation involving Moraga Boy Scout Ryan Andresen, who was denied the top rank of Eagle Scout because he is gay.
"Ryan's case was paramount in the decision of the introduction of this bill," he said.
Boy Scouts of America has been embroiled in a national debate over its policy on gay scouts and LGBT scouting leaders. The organization delayed a planned vote this month on a change to its policy that would allow individual troops to decide whether to allow gay people to participate. The group has been subjected to intense lobbying by those on both sides of the issue, and a vote is now set for May.
Boy Scouts of America did not respond to an inquiry about the bill.
More than 70 percent of scouting units are organized through faith-based organizations, the largest being the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, followed by the United Methodist Church, according to the website of the Boy Scouts.
The bill is sponsored by Equality California, one of the state's major gay rights organizations, and the leader of that group said the measure will not infringe on religious freedoms.
"Whatever religious exemptions that exist for those organizations ... this bill does not affect that," said John O'Connor, the executive director of Equality California who said he earned the rank of Eagle Scout.
"Scouting contributed an enormous amount to my development as a leader, instilling values in me that still resonate today," he said. "It's unfortunate that a number of young people are denied that experience by virtue of who they are."
Eric Andresen, the father of Ryan Andresen, 18, said he plans to help generate support for the measure in the Legislature if he is needed.
He said he hopes that the bill will help pressure the executive board of Boy Scouts of America to vote for a change in the policy, but said he's mostly involved because of "how much Ryan has stuck his neck out and how difficult it has been for him."
Even with the national controversy over the Boy Scout policy, Eric Andresen said he has been buoyed by support from the scouting community in the Bay Area and California.
"The facts are out there, and discrimination just isn't acceptable anymore," he said.
Wyatt Buchanan is a San Francisco Chronicle staff writer. E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org
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