Twenty-six Democrats in the California State Assembly walked off the Assembly floor last week to protest a joint resolution extending happy birthday greetings to the Boy Scouts of America.
The resolution stated that the legislature "congratulates the Boy Scouts of America on the occasion of the 85th anniversary of their congressional charter, and recognizes the valuable contributions made by the Boy Scouts of America in training our young people for citizenship, service and leadership."
Eleven Democrats joined 26 Republicans to support the bill. But the 26 abstentions effectively killed the bill in a 37-17 vote since a majority of 41 votes is needed to pass. Four Republicans, whose votes could have saved the resolution, were absent from the day's vote.
Los Angeles Republican Robert Pacheco sponsored the bill. His legislative director Kevin Gould said that Democrats originally tried to bog the bill down in the Judiciary Committee to avoid a floor vote, but when that failed, "folks displeased with the recent Supreme Court decision" started a full-fledged lobbying effort against it, he said.
The U.S. Supreme Court ruled last year that the Boy Scouts, a private organization, can prohibit homosexuals from becoming Scout masters. Since the decision, several school boards and city councils across the nation have taken action against the Scouts, in some instances preventing them from meeting in public places such as school buildings.
During the 45 minutes of Assembly debate, three openly lesbian members of the California assembly argued against the resolution, saying that the state legislature cannot condone the Boy Scouts' position on homosexuals.
"We weren't about to honor an organization that discriminates against some youth," said Assemblywoman Carole Migden, D-San Francisco.
Gould argues that opponents of the Boy Scouts are trying to stifle the group's rights. "The first amendment [of the Constitution] says they can associate with whomever they choose," Gould said.
The resolution, which identified the Boy Scouts' mission as offering "young people responsible fun and adventure while developing the ethical quality of their characters," listed several former Boy Scouts, including astronauts Neil Armstrong and Jim Lovell, Presidents Gerald Ford and John F. Kennedy, athletes Nolan Ryan and Steve Young, and corporate leaders Ross Perot and Bill Gates.