A state ruling last week said that California judges are no longer allowed to belong to the Boy Scouts.
Wait a minute. I know, as I get older, that various professionals seem younger and younger, like my doctor. But are there now Boy Scouts who are judges? Is there a judge’s badge they can earn?
Oh, I get it, California judges can’t be Boy Scout leaders, because the Boy Scouts prohibit gay Scout leaders. The judge’s professional code says they can’t belong to any organization that discriminates on the basis of race, sex, religion, national origin or (along with 21 other states) sexual orientation. They had given an exemption for youth organizations, but last week took that away.
I guess plumbers or even nurses can belong to whatever groups they want in their private lives. But judges are supposed to be trusted public servants who are impartial. Even the appearance of impartiality can disqualify a judge.
(Having been myself a public figure for some years, a local church minister, I know the tension of private and public lives. In a small town I was aware that what I wore on my day off, or what my children did, reflected, sadly, on me and my church. I had to think twice about what I did or said in any setting. But I did stand for certain beliefs and behaviors, so I understood the conflation of public and private. Judges also supposedly stand for something.)
California’s is the largest of all the state judiciaries: 2000 judges, along with 21,000 staff members hear 10 million cases a year. It’s the first state to make this kind of ruling on judges and the Scouts.
But this is only the latest example of public opinion turning against the Boy Scouts. For a century Scouts, at least the Boy version, has seemed as American as apple pie. Corporations supported the Scouts financially as a way to improve their public image. Cities gave Scouts free or discounted space. Churches vied to sponsor a troop.
But the Boy Scouts have always banned gay scouts and gay leaders, publicly kicked them out. In the past decade or so more public pressure finally forced the Scouts last year to change their policies; gay boys could now be Scouts. But still gay leaders would be prohibited. All kinds of stories of beloved leaders, including moms and dads, being expelled. Surveys show that neither conservatives or liberals are satisfied with this Salomon-like ruling; there are just two halves of the baby.
In a sense, this so called compromise forced the hand of many institutions. In the past year, corporations like Intel and Lockheed Martin have announced they will no longer contribute to the Scouts as long as it gays can’t be leaders. Even Disneyland quietly stopped supporting the Scouts. Churches have started parallel programs like Scouting for All.
(Not being a Scout type myself, I can’t quite get why these big companies supported them in the first place – was it just old boy execs, some kind of tax breaks, a way to improve your image? Lockheed Martin is a huge military contractor. Are the Scouts sort of a pseudo military organization? No, not really, but boys will be boys…)
The California judge decision and these changing corporate policies are more dominos falling down in the long and inevitable dismantling of homophobic laws and policies. Because of dramatically changed public opinion on gay rights, 36 states now have legal same sex marriage, and over 70% of all US citizens live in one of those states. Last week the Supreme Court also agreed to rule this year on several of the state’s cases that still oppose marriage, hopefully producing one national ruling and right to marriage equality.
But the increasing marginalization of Boy Scouts from “favored nation” status reminds us it is not just same sex marriage laws that are changing. In last week’s State of the Union Address, President Obama said the words “lesbian, bisexual and transgender” for the first time ever in such an address. He said Americans “now condemn the persecution of women, religious minorities or people who are lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender.” The words “bisexual” and “transgender” had never before come from any President’s mouth.
- Many factors contribute to this rapidly changing landscape here in the US.
- People know more and more LGBT people personally.
- More LGBT people are in positions of power and influence: the law, politics, media, religion.
- Social media has lowered the wall between private and public, work and home.
So it’s harder for a judge to rule on a gay rights case and then go home and attend a Scout meeting where they dismiss a beloved gay leader. Still happens, I’m sure. Three states have no laws prohibiting judges from belonging to any discriminatory groups – go ahead a join the Ku Klux Klan! Only half of the states include discrimination against LGBT folks as one of the outlawed policies.
But the closet door has opened a crack wider. Not only are folks coming out, but folks like judges, straight or gay, can no keep themselves in the dark.
Copyright © 2015 Deborah Streeter