Unanimous New Jersey Supreme Court Strikes Down Boy Scout Anti-Gay Ban
(NEW YORK, August 5, 1999) -- A unanimous New Jersey Supreme Court has unequivocally rejected the Boy Scout's anti-gay policies, a phenomenal victory hailed by Lambda Legal Defense and Education Fund both for its client, the exemplary Eagle Scout James Dale, and for all who believe in Scouting values.
"The highly respected New Jersey Supreme Court handed down a win-win-win ruling: a victory for anoutstanding Eagle Scout; a victory for gay youth who should be included, not excluded, from scouting; and a victory for all members of scouting, who join because they value honesty, community service, self-reliance, and respect for others not discrimination," said Lambda Senior Staff Attorney Evan Wolfson, who argued the case in January.
The 7-0 decision Wednesday by the New Jersey Supreme Court is the first ever ruling by a state high court to strike down the Boy Scouts of America's (BSA) ban on gay members, and vindicates Dale's nine-year struggle with the organization that kicked him out solely because he is gay.
In a methodical and comprehensive 89-page opinion by Chief Justice Deborah T. Portiz, the Court noted that the BSA is an organization that is non-selective in its membership and receives significant support from the state and local governments, and so it cannot exempt itself from compliance with state civil rights law.
The Court also emphatically rejected the BSA's attempts to justify the exclusionary and discriminatory policies using the First Amendment, saying that promoting anti-gay bigotry was not the purpose that brought the members together.
Poritz wrote, "The human price of...bigotry has been enormous. At a most fundamental level, adherence to the principle of equality demands that our legal system protect the victims of invidious discrimination."
Justice Alan B. Handler emphasized in a separate concurring opinion that being gay does not take away from "one's ability to participate in and contribute responsively and positively to society."
"My birthday was on Monday and this is the best birthday gift I could have asked for," said Dale. He added, "The decision vindicates everything I have learned through scouting: to be true to yourself, to be helpful to others, and to believe that justice and goodness will prevail."
Dale, now 29, was in scouting for a dozen years, earned over 30 merit badges, rose to the rank of Eagle Scout and became a member of the prestigious Order of the Arrow. The BSA ousted him in July 1990.
In March 1998, a state intermediate appellate court ruled that Dale's expulsion violated the New Jersey Law Against Discrimination. That decision, upheld by the state's High Court, also rejected "stereotypical notions" about the abilities of gay youth and adults to participate in Scouting.
Dale is also represented by the New York firm Cleary, Gottlieb, Steen & Hamilton, and local counsel Lewis Robertson. Lambda is the nation's oldest and largest legal organization serving lesbians, gay men, and people with HIV/AIDS.
Contact: Peg Byron 212-809-8585 x 230, 888-987-1984 (pager); Joneil Adriano 212-809-8585 x 241, 888-987-1971 (pager)