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LS_MUSIC_FESTIVAL11.JPGCalifornia Boy Scout troops that ban openly gay members could lose their nonprofit tax status under legislation that advanced in the state Senate today.

Senate Bill 323, by Democratic Sen. Ricardo Lara, would repeal the state tax-exempt status of any youth organization that discriminates based on gender identity, sexual orientation or religious affiliation.

Lara said the bill is intended to "make sure all our youth get to participate in our youth programs."

The legislation comes amid increased public pressure for the Boy Scouts of America to change its blanket ban on openly gay troops. A former president said the organization has been reviewing that policy in an ongoing effort to stay relevant with families, but opposes the legislation because of the potential financial impact on troops across the state.

"You're talking about taxing revenue that is very important, especially to the local scouts," Rick Cronk, a former president of the Boy Scouts of America, told the committee.

Critics also raised concerns about the constitutionality of the legislation, citing a U.S. Supreme Court ruling affirming the private organization's right to make membership decisions, and safety issues they said could arise when straight and gay scouts and leaders go on camping trips or other outings.

Still, supporters said the change, which would not impact churches that charter scout troops, would send an important message about equality.

"(Senate Bill 323 will) let the scouts and other groups know that at least in the state of California, we will not support any organization that thinks it can get away with discrimination" said Ryan Andersen, who has become an advocate for lifting the policy int the wake of his gay son's experience with the Boy Scouts.

The bill cleared the Senate Governance and Finance Committee on a party-line vote of 5-2. It will now be scheduled for a hearing in the Senate Appropriations Committee.

PHOTO: Members of the Boy Scouts of America march in a parade at the Sacramento Music Festival in Old Sacramento in May 2012. Lezlie Sterling / Sacramento Bee file.



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