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Asbury Park Press, February 23, 2004
3601 Highway 66, PO Box 1550, Neptune, NJ 07754
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Ex-Scout leader fights for gay rights

By Andrea Alexander, Keyport Bureau

Shortly after losing a court battle nearly four years ago challenging a Boy Scouts of America policy against openly gay leaders, James Dale learned to see victory in defeat.

He has used the national recognition earned during his 10-year court fight to travel the country speaking as an advocate for HIV prevention and gay rights.

Dale, 33, is vice president of sales and marketing for Smart + Strong, a publishing company of general health magazines including Poz and Mamm, which educates about breast and ovarian cancer.

His lawsuit filed in state court in 1992, when he was a sophomore at Rutgers University, ignited a firestorm regarding the Boy Scouts policy.

Dale, from Middletown, was ousted as a leader of a troop in Matawan after speaking in public about being gay.

Although the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that the Boy Scouts are a private organization and can set their own standards for members and leaders, Dale finds victory as school districts, churches and other groups debate their sponsorship of troops, citing concerns about discrimination.

"There are people who think the Boy Scouts have really lost their soul," Dale said. "When people wrestle with 'should I stay in Scouting,' that is when real change happens."

Dale says the way to be a catalyst for change is to start a public discussion on the issues. He predicted that recent events in Massachusetts, San Francisco and New Mexico will alter the debate on gay marriage.

"I have no doubt that we will have marriage equality in the not-too-distant future as people start speaking out," Dale said. "If you look at what happened in Massachusetts or what is going on in San Francisco, you see there is a huge movement that can't be easily stopped."

A Massachusetts Supreme Court ruled in November that the state's ban on same-sex marriage was unconstitutional. The San Francisco mayor and a county clerk in New Mexico are grabbing headlines for acts of civil disobedience by performing marriage ceremonies for gay couples.

In New Jersey a Mercer County Superior Court Judge dismissed a case last fall filed by seven same-sex couples seeking the same rights as married heterosexual couples. The couples plan to file an appeal next month, according to a spokeswoman for the Lambda Legal Defense Fund, which filed the lawsuit on their behalf.

Civil unions, which grant many of the same rights as marriage under a different name, are not enough, Dale said.

"It is not about separate but equal," said Dale, who hopes to marry one day. "If we define marriage in society as a legal institution, then it has to be consistent. It sometimes takes a while, but I believe that
people will do the right thing."

Dale ties promoting marriage for same-sex couples to reducing the HIV infection rate. He is working on a supplement for the publishing company due out this summer to targeted to HIV prevention for young people.

"If we say, 'You can get married and we value your relationships,' HIV cases go down," he said. "The movement toward marriage helps young people see they have a place in a relationship that they can be valued and respected."

Despite Dale's optimism that the right to marry is on the horizon for same sex couples, many conservatives groups, including New Jersey Family Policy Council, are working hard to stop the movement.

Len Deo, president of the council, based in Parsippany, supports an amendment to the constitution to prevent same-sex marriage.

"You can't redefine marriage," Deo said. "Marriage is the coming together of two sexes, male and female. The gays should not have the right to redefine the entire institution of marriage, which has been one man and one woman for 1,000 years."

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