East vs. West in Battle for Gay Scouts' Honor

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The U.S. Supreme Court may have to decide just what type of organization the Boy Scouts is. In what could turn out to be a landmark ruling on gay rights, New Jersey Supreme Court ruled that the organization, as a "place of public accommodation," is forbidden from discriminating against homosexuals. This decision stands in direct contrast to the California bench’s 1998 ruling that defined the Scouts as a private organization, which therefore had a right to exclude gays. Although the High Court declined to hear an appeal on the California ruling, the conflicting interpretations may persuade the justices to hear the Scouts’ appeal against the New Jersey judgment in order to resolve the issue.

Hearing a lawsuit brought by James Dale, now 29, a New Jersey assistant scoutmaster expelled from the organization nine years ago after a newspaper revealed his sexual orientation, the New Jersey bench ruled unanimously that the Boy Scouts’ broad-based membership and partnerships with police and fire departments and other public entities rendered it a "place of public accommodation" — legally on a par with, say, a restaurant — and therefore bound by the state’s anti-discrimination laws. "The New Jersey ruling is an important victory for the gay rights movement," says TIME correspondent Adam Cohen. "The ‘place of public accommodation’ concept dates from the Civil Rights era when courts ruled against Southern institutions that claimed it was their private choice to exclude black people. The logic of the Boy Scouts’ position means that they would also reserve the right to exclude members on the basis of race – and it’s hard to imagine any court upholding that."