A new California bill that would end tax breaks for youth groups that discriminate based on sexual orientation, including the Boy Scouts of America, is stirring both grassroots support and opposition.
Some California organizations, defined in a similar way to non-profit organizations under federal law, get exemptions from state corporate taxes and taxes on items they sell, such as the popcorn Scouts often sell to raise funds. SB 323 by state Sen. Ricardo Lara, D-Long Beach, would end this exemption for youth groups that discriminate by treating their sales to the same extent as any other retailers; it also would require organizations with discriminatory policies to pay corporate taxes on donations and other forms of income.
“Our state values the important role that youth groups play in the empowerment of our next generation; this is demonstrated by rewarding organizations with tax exemptions supported financially by all Californians,” Lara said Tuesday in a news release announcing the bill. “SB 323 seeks to end the unfortunate discriminatory and outdated practices by certain youth groups by revoking their tax exemption privilege should they not comply with our non-discrimination laws.”
An online petition launched by an activist and former Boy Scout to urge this bill’s passage already has more than 8,300 signatures. Petitioner Eddie Kurtz, who works with the Courage Campaign, said he joined as a Cub Scout and finished at the rank of Life Scout, one short of the Eagle Scout award.
“Scouting stands for the finest qualities of humanity: self-reliance, creativity, and an appreciation of nature. Most of all, we were taught how to act as responsible, respectful citizens,” Kurtz said in a news release Thursday. “This is why the Boy Scouts’ continued policy of excluding members based on their sexual orientation is so upsetting to me. It flies in the face of the very values that the scouting tradition professes to teach. As a straight ally, I can’t sit idle while the current leaders of the Boy Scouts disgrace this once-proud American institution with their personal bigotry.”
But the conservative Pacific Justice Institute will be working to oppose the bill; the group’s website refers to SB 323 as “forced lifestyle acceptance.”
“From the plain text of this bill, it is clear to us that SB 323 is one of the most outrageous bills we have seen in California — and that’s saying a lot,” PJI President Brad Dacus said in a news release Thursday. “We have been warning for years that the gay lobby would eventually use tax exemptions to force non-profits to capitulate to their demands, but it’s still shocking to see it actually in print and on its way to becoming law.”
Because SB 323 would essentially raise taxes on some organizations, it will require a 2/3 vote in each legislative chamber in order to pass – a majority Democrats attained in last November’s election.
The Boy Scouts of America’s executive board this month delayed a decision on whether to change its long-standing policy of excluding LGBT youths and adults; the organization’s full national council is expected to revisit the issue in May.
(Full disclosure: I’m an Eagle Scout, and a registered committee member in my son’s troop.)