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California Bill May End Tax Exemption For Boy Scouts

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A detail view of a Boy Scout uniform. (Tom Pennington/Getty Images)

A detail view of a Boy Scout uniform. (Tom Pennington/Getty Images)

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SACRAMENTO (CBS / AP) — The state Senate approved legislation Wednesday that would use California’s tax policy in an attempt to pressure the Boy Scouts of America into fully accepting gay members.

The bill would make the organization ineligible for nonprofit tax breaks, despite its vote last week to accept openly gay scouts while blocking gays from becoming scout leaders.

Democratic Sen. Ricardo Lara of Bell Gardens says that policy means gays can join the scouts only until they turn 18.

“Equality does not have an expiration date,” he said. “Discrimination should not be subsidized.”

Scouting leaders have objected that the bill would harm local troops that serve 180,000 California youth. Conservative legal aid groups have promised to sue if the measure becomes law on the grounds that it would punish an organization based on its beliefs.

Lara’s SB323 would deny state tax breaks to youth groups that discriminate on the basis of gender identity, race, sexual orientation, nationality, religion or religious affiliation. It passed the Senate with a 27-9 vote, with the minimum two-thirds majority needed to alter the state’s tax policy.

It now goes to the Assembly. If the bill is eventually signed into law by the governor, the groups would have to pay corporate taxes on donations, membership dues and camp fees while also paying sales tax on food, beverages and homemade items sold at fundraisers.

“Today, more than ever, youth need the character and leadership programs of Scouting. We are disappointed with anything that impacts our ability to serve more youth,” Scouting spokesman Deron Smith said in an email.

He could not estimate how much the scouts might lose if the bill becomes law.

“This bill is about government vilifying our values and abusing its power to penalize, through taxation, those who hold different beliefs and values,” objected Karen England, executive director of the Capitol Resource Institute, which tries to strengthen traditional families.

Lara’s office and the advocacy group Equality California, which sponsored the measure, said it was the first gay rights bill to pass with a two-thirds majority in the state’s history. A similar measure has been introduced in the New York state Senate.

(Copyright 2013 by CBS San Francisco. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.)

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