Delaying equality for Boy Scouts

Tony Gutierrez AP Details of a Boy Scout uniform shown in front of the Boy Scouts of America headquarters Monday, … Continued

Tony Gutierrez


Details of a Boy Scout uniform shown in front of the Boy Scouts of America headquarters Monday, Feb. 4, 2013, in Dallas, Texas .

Today, a young gay man growing up in a small town, in a deeply conservative home, can look out his window and see his country evolving. Just a few years ago, his military barred him from serving openly, a hate crime committed against him would have gone unpunished as such, and his Congress was debating whether or not to amend the Constitution to render him second class. Today, America looks so much more like a country that embraces him, even if discrimination still prevails in his church, his schoolyard or around his dinner table.

But even as this incredible transformation takes place nationwide, one group we trust to teach America’s children still remain firmly against giving this young gay man the hope of an inclusive future: the leadership of the Boy Scouts of America.

The BSA announced this week that it will delay lifting its long-running ban on openly gay scouts . It was expected to announce a policy that instead would allow local chartering organizations—churches, civic organizations, and the like—to institute bans of their own.

Some have celebrated this decentralized approach as progress. It is not. If anything, it is a reaffirmation of the BSA leadership’s belief that it is okay to teach young boys to dislike and reject others simply on the basis of who they are—a reaffirmation that allows the BSA leadership to escape blame. It would be a deeply immoral policy.

If this seems harsh, remember that in the year 2000, the BSA went all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court to argue that barring gay Scouts was absolutely central to their principles as an organization. In order to claim that the ban was permissible on First Amendment grounds, they had to prove that keeping gay youth out was part of the organization’s core “expressive message.” They succeeded, and the justices upheld the ban.

Now, the BSA seems to be singing a different song. If the proposed policy is to be believed, accepting or rejecting gay scouts is no longer a central part of the BSA’s identity. In fact, it’s apparently so unimportant that the national leadership is considering abdicating the question to local chartering organizations.

Unless the BSA was dishonest with the Supreme Court, then their views have shifted over the past twelve years. If so, that is truly wonderful. Many Americans have undergone this same evolution on issues of equality, and we embrace this process as an essential and healthy part of the national debate around these issues.

But if the BSA’s views on homosexuality have changed, then they owe it to our nation’s youth to say so. Don’t pass the buck. And don’t behave as though the question of treating children equally is so unimportant as to be delegated to a local committee like the amending of bylaws. Do not treat so violently and cheaply the hopes of LGBT youth in this country. Do not manhandle their dreams of a country that embraces them for who they are.

On gay equality, it’s time for the BSA leadership to lead. Instead of this unsustainable proposed half-measure, embrace a true national policy of inclusion. Welcome gay scouts—not because the Anytown Lions Club which charters Troop #n thinks it’s okay, but because it’s part of our national moral character to be inclusive of all people and such welcome is true to the spirit of the Boy Scout’s mission to raise good boys into great men.

Until they do, the BSA leadership is failing that young boy who gazes out at an evolving country. Until they do, they are failing to teach our children well.

Bishop Gene Robinson is a part of HRC’s Religion and Faith Council and a Senior Fellow at the Center for American Progress, Washington, DC. Chad Griffin is President of the Human Rights Campaign, Washington, DC.

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  • Arizonan

    When you call for a final decision instead of the current proposed plan, you need to be ready to accept the possibly then that they will not change the policy at all. Second, when the Canadian boy scout included gays they wound up losing most of their membership and what was once a robust organization is now only a shadow of its former self. Personally I am in favor of leaving the Boy Scouts alone and advocate the gays putting in their efforts to support the Spiral Scout program who allow gays.

    So rather than Destroying the BSA and leaving the Spiral scouts to struggle, ending scouting as we know it (the camping, outdoor, leadership building part not the politics) lets put all this effort into supporting whatever program suits your opinion best and in the long run things should all work out.

    This constant attacks only retrenches people more firmly into whatever side they are leaning. It is destructive, this is America, people and private organizations are free to have their opinion. We should be putting our efforts into constructive building of the organizations we most closely identify with, not tearing down someone elses group because they don’t agree with our beliefs.

    Hence my vote is leave BSA alone on the issue, as I really don’t think they are going to change completely if at all. If you have ever been to a scout meeting the whole gay topic has never come up in any of the meetings I have been too as my 3 boys went through scouting. So anti-gay sentiment is not being taught by the BSA and Even if they change to the pressure. What happened to the Canada program will happen to the US program and that will be a terrible loss for America no matter what side of the issue you are on.

  • FrenchChef

    Sorry, Arizonan, US Scouting is already at 10% of its membership numbers of the 1960s. The 2000 US Supreme Court decision officially allowing BSA to restrict their membership this way was a Pyrrhic victory; the drop in membership increased greatly.

    If the BSA does not at least take the small step they proposed away from homophobia, they will lose the remaining members other than the Mormon boys who really have no choice to join. At that point, the BSA can kss goodbye ANY corporate or public support.

  • Far West Journal

    Since this is a moral issue, it has nothing to do with bigotry, at least not on the part of those who oppose gays in the Boy Scouts. However, anti-religious and anti-straight bigotry runs rampant in those who disagree. What depressing irony that those who are so quick to claim bigotry on the part of the morally opposed, i.e. calling them homophobes, do so on the basis of their own vicious bigotry? The Truth: Pedophiles can claim, on the same grounds as the gays, that to arrest or discriminate against them for exercising their sexual preference is also bigotry. Pyromaniacs might just a logically claim bigotry when they are arrested and incarcerated for exercising their immoral conduct. Homosexual conduct is IMMORAL, just like pedophilia, larceny, adultery, murder. If immoral conduct cannot be guarded against, then the whole criminal system must be done away with.

    I am an Eagle Scout and Scout leader. I have been in scouting for years. I can honestly assert that it is IMPOSSIBLE to keep the Scout Oath, to do one’s duty to God, or to keep one’s self morally straight, while supporting or engaging in homosexual conduct. Scouting was intended as a moral organization to instill basic truths and real morals in the lives of the young men. That mission will be completely lost, if the Scouts suddenly declare that which is absolutely immoral, to be acceptable.

  • FrenchChef

    Are you really WHINING that your intended victims are “the real bigots,” Far?

    There’s just no point of your continuing on with those other standard anti-gay lies.

  • FrenchChef

    So you’d rather see the Boy Scouts disappear than for them to clean up their act? Maybe your single biggest lie was claiming you’re a Scout leader. You’re a Scout destroyer, Far, which also proves you are anti-gay. I hope the Scouts get smart before it’s too late.

  • Arizonan

    Lets get our facts straight FrenchChef. 10% is an uexaggeration. BSA’s membership high point was 6.2 million and is now 2.8 million or 45%. Which is a significant drop, but a lot of that has to do with the youth today.

    Look at girl scouts who are inclusive, they also dropped from their high of 3.9 million to 2.3 million or 58% and they have not had to deal with the negative publicity or attacks on their funding and allowing everyone in. Canadian scouts are down to 43% taking their biggest drop after becoming inclusive. So the arguement that by becoming inclusive it will help their membership is not really supported by these examples.

    As for their corporate sponsors, many of them only pull their funding after the gay organizations pressure them to pull the funding. This is what I do not support because it is creating resentment. Let BSA do their own thing and over time things will naturally take their course. If you push things, you have to face the fact that there may be a backlash and I think we are getting close to reaching that point.


  • dcrswm

    Wrong on so many levels, and as an Eagle Scout you should be ashamed, or has reverent been changed to “Christian” and do my duty to god become “do my duty to the christian god”. One can be religious and not be christian, one can believe in god and not believe homosexuality is immoral.


    Well said and intellectually honest Farwest! Moral relativity gone wild leads to anarchy!


    I’d put the answer off for another 10 years or so!