Officials with the Boy Scouts of America announced Wednesday that they needed more time for consultations before deciding whether to lift the policy excluding gays as scouts or adult leaders. We hope this does not signal a retreat from reconsidering that policy.
The BSA’s board met for three days this week in Irving, Texas, and an announcement regarding possible policy changes was expected as early as Wednesday. But the board, under intense pressure from both sides on this issue, decided to delay voting on any proposals until the organization’s annual meeting in May.
The fact that the BSA is considering changes at all is somewhat surprising. Just last July, the board strongly reaffirmed its policy of excluding gays.
But while pressure to maintain the ban – coming largely from conservative religious groups – has been steady, scouting also has come under pressure recently from opponents of the ban. Notably, corporate supporters have threatened to withdraw funding.
Shipping company UPS and drug manufacturer Merck & Co. already have withdrawn their support, and Intel Foundation, which had been a supporter, changed its official policy on charitable giving to exclude groups that discriminate against gays. Two BSA board members, James Turley, CEO of professional services organization Ernst & Young, and Randall Stephenson, CEO of AT&T Inc., have vowed to fight the ban from within.
The Scouts, whose motto is “be prepared,” nonetheless might not have foreseen the growing acceptance of the right of gays to share the same privileges as all Americans. The military has dropped its “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy, allowing gays to serve openly; many states now allow gay marriage; most companies now have policies forbidding discrimination against gay employees and, in many cases, extending to gay couples the same benefits as heterosexual couples.
And President Barack Obama recently became the first U.S. president to affirm gay rights in his inaugural address. Regarding the issue of gay scouts, Obama recently stated: “My attitude is that gays and lesbians should have access and opportunity the same way everybody else does in every institution and walk of life.”
The Boy Scouts of America, a private organization, clearly has the right to maintain its discriminatory policy. In 2000, the U.S. Supreme Court, on a 5-4 decision, upheld the ban on participation by gays.
But legality is one thing. In practice, the real world might be leaving the BSA behind. A decision on dropping the ban might determine whether the organization survives.
The BSA board has floated the idea of splitting the difference in its decision. One proposal would allow each troop to choose, meaning that some troops would admit gays while others wouldn’t.
This strikes us as untenable, not to mention morally misguided. How can you have a unified organization with a commitment to “helping others” in which one side advocates inclusion and the other side advocates exclusion?
As in the military, there already are gay scouts and scout leaders despite the official policy. In many cases, scouts might not be entirely aware of their sexual orientation. The notion of denying those vulnerable young men a chance to participate in scouting seems heartless.
The policy should be uniform and mandatory; the ban should be dropped for all troops. If that compels some groups to drop their sponsorship of troops or some boys to leave scouting, so be it.
It should be noted that the Girl Scouts of the USA does not discriminate against gay members or volunteers. If the Girl Scouts can continue to thrive without excluding gays, the Boy Scouts can, too.