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S.F. judges cut links to Boy Scouts because of policy on gays, lesbians


Bob Egelko, Chronicle Staff Writer Friday, July 26, 2002

San Francisco's judges have become the first in the state to cut ties with the Boy Scouts because of the organization's refusal to admit gays and lesbians. A lawyer who sought the change said Thursday she hoped to take it statewide.

San Francisco Superior Court judges and commissioners adopted a policy July 11 stating they would not take part in any organization that "discriminates on the basis of sexual orientation by excluding members on the grounds that their sexual orientation renders them 'unclean,' 'immoral' or 'unfit.' " The action was in response to a resolution in January from the local bar association.

In practice, the policy prohibits the judges from taking part in the Boy Scouts. Statewide ethical standards for judges, adopted by the state Supreme Court in 1995, forbid membership in organizations that discriminate against lesbians and gays but exempt "nonprofit youth organizations," an exception designed for the Boy Scouts.

"This is a fundamental part of being a judicial officer . . . avoiding even the appearance of partiality at all times so that every litigant who appears in front of you is treated fairly and equally," said Angela Bradstreet, president of the Bar Association of San Francisco.

The state court refused to repeal the exemption in December 2000 despite a plea from appeals court Justice James Lambden of San Francisco, who had just resigned as an assistant scoutmaster in Alameda County.

Lambden was responding to the U.S. Supreme Court's 5-4 ruling in June 2000 upholding the Boy Scouts' policy. The organization had argued that its code, requiring scouts to be "morally straight" and "clean," excluded homosexuals, and the court majority said the Boy Scouts were entitled to define their own principles.

The California Supreme Court, in two 1998 cases, had upheld the Boy Scouts' refusals to admit gays and atheists. Bradstreet, a lesbian who is a partner in the law firm of Carroll, Burdick & McDonough, said she had decided to press the issue after reading legal arguments in which the Boy Scouts described gays as "not morally fit."

She said she had asked the State Bar president to let her address a forthcoming meeting and argue for a statewide resolution against discrimination that could be presented to judges in all counties. She also said she had been told that a committee of the state Judicial Council, the policy-making body for judges, was considering the issue. Council spokeswoman Lynn Holton said she wasn't aware of any impending council action on the subject.

In the meantime, the Santa Clara County Bar Association has adopted a resolution like San Francisco's and is approaching judges on the local court's executive committee, said Christine Burdick, the association's executive director. The Alameda County Bar Association is scheduled to consider the issue in September.

E-mail Bob Egelko at begelko@sfchronicle.com.



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