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James Lambden has been involved with the Boy Scouts of America for about 35 years — first as a young scout himself whose father was a scoutmaster and for the past four years as an assistant scoutmaster in Alameda County, California. His own 15-year-old son is a member of the Scouts to this day. But Lambden, an associate justice on San Francisco’s 1st District Court of Appeal, has decided to part ways with the 90-year-old organization to protest its official policy that discriminates against gays. He’s also asked the California Supreme Court to reconsider exempting nonprofit youth organizations from a California judicial ethics code that prevents judges from belonging to discriminatory groups. “What I’ve asked is that [the canons] be looked at again,” said Lambden, who sent the letter in his official capacity as an appellate justice. Furthermore, in a Sept. 8 letter to Scouts chief executive Roy Williams, he said the arguments advanced by the organization during litigation before the U.S. Supreme Court “has made reliance upon [the state's] exemption personally unacceptable to me and ethically questionable for judges everywhere.” Lambden — a 50-year-old Republican elevated to the appellate bench in 1996 — said Wednesday that he didn’t reach his decision lightly and only hopes that it gives the Boy Scouts another reason to reconsider its anti-gay policy. “The position taken by the Scouts is wrong,” he said, “and I’m in the business of trying to get things right.” Lambden’s action comes less than three months after the U.S. Supreme Court’s June 28 ruling in Boy Scouts of America v. Dale, 120 Sup.Ct 2446, which held that the First Amendment’s freedom-of-association protections let the Boy Scouts deny leadership positions to homosexuals. Opponents worry that the ruling also could give the 6.2 million-member organization legal backing to reject gay youth as members, especially considering that the Scouts had argued in Dale that homosexual conduct is inconsistent with the values the group seeks to instill. The decision created a backlash against the Scouts, with activists asking governmental organizations with non-discrimination laws to sever their financial ties with the association. On Wednesday, even Congress got into the debate, voting on a Democrat-backed measure that would have revoked the Boy Scouts’ federal charter, an honorary title that’s a mark of prestige and national recognition for such a group. The bill was resoundingly rejected by a vote of 362-12. Lambden said Wednesday there is “a lot of talk among scoutmasters who are tolerant” about working from within to create change. But he said he felt that was impossible, considering the Scouts’ ardent position. “The Scouts has meant a lot to me,” he said. “It’s been instructive to me and my kids. But it needs to change.” Officials in the Scouts’ national office didn’t return telephone calls, but John Pearl, Scout executive with the group’s Alameda Council, expressed regret at Lambden’s decision. “He’s a nice guy, and I’m sorry he reached this conclusion,” Pearl said, “but life goes on.” “It’s obvious that people’s opinions differ, and we respect the right of others to have opinions different than ours,” he added. “And we hope they would respect ours too.” Of course, Lambden isn’t the first to raise questions about the exemption from the ethics code. In fact, the Bar Association of San Francisco and the gay-oriented Bay Area Lawyers for Individual Freedom have vowed to try to get the high court to close the loophole, which was introduced in 1995. California Chief Justice Ronald George said Wednesday he had received Lambden’s letter as well as one from BASF, but said no action had been taken by the high court. “The court will be monitoring the situation,” he said, “and will consider [these] and any other requests we might receive in determining how we might proceed with any possible revisions to the canons.” Lambden’s resignation drew praise Wednesday from the Lambda Legal Defense & Education Fund, the New York-based gay legal group that’s been in the forefront in the fight against the Scouts. “I think it’s very admirable the step he’s taken and hope he serves as a role model for other judges,” said Jon Davidson, supervising attorney in the Los Angeles office. “I think that though the Judicial Council has tried to deal with this issue … the exclusion of youth organizations [in the ethics code] was an embarrassingly transparent capitulation to allow judges who wanted to participate in the Boy Scouts to do so.” Lambden said Wednesday that his son will remain in the Scouts, but he vowed to focus his own attention on other youth groups. “I was putting a lot of energy into the Boy Scouts,” he said, “and now I’ll try to find another group.”

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