IRVING, Texas, July 15, 2014 (LifeSiteNews) – The Boy Scouts of America (BSA) have changed their longstanding policy and will now allow openly homosexual troop leaders.
Their executive committee unanimously passed a resolution to lift a ban on gay and bisexual adult leaders, it was announced this week. The resolution, passed by a committee of 17, will become official Boy Scout policy if ratified by the National Executive Board on July 27.
The Boy Scouts have been moving toward endorsing homosexuality for years. In 2013, the national council voted to allow openly homosexual youths – boys and young men identifying as gay – to become Scouts and participate fully in the Boy Scouts' programs, counseling, personal training, and group trips. However, they kept a ban on gay troop leaders.
BSA president and former secretary of defense Robert Gates called on the organization to lift that ban. The reason for the change is the fluctuation of societal norms and “increasing legal challenges at the federal, state, and local levels,” a Boy Scouts statement read. In other words, lawsuits have forced the change.
“I truly fear that any other alternative will be the end of us as a national movement,” said Gates.
Gates said the Boy Scouts should change policy before courts inevitably forced them to. “The status quo in our movement's membership standards cannot be sustained.”
“We cannot ignore growing internal challenges to our current membership policy, from some councils – like the Greater New York council, the Denver Area council, and others – in open defiance of the policy,” Gates told the executive committee. “We can expect more councils to openly challenge the current policy.”
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In 2000, the Supreme Court ruled 5-4 that the Boy Scouts had a constitutional right to exclude openly gay Scout masters based on the Scouts' First Amendment freedom of association. However, the Boy Scouts' website admitted that if their ban were legally challenged today, the Boy Scouts “would almost certainly lose.” The organization explained on its website that the BSA is too internally divided on the issue, and legal precedents and public opinion have too drastically changed.
The decision gives each local troop the right to decide whether to consider sexual orientation in choosing troop leaders. That allowance gives church-based troops the leeway to pick Christian troop leaders, but it also has raised criticism among gay activists.
“This policy change is not perfect: BSA's religious chartering partners will be allowed to continue to discriminate against gay adults,” Scouts for Equality executive director Zach Wahls pointed out. About 70% of the 650 Boy Scout troops in the greater Los Angeles area are chartered by religious organizations.
Douglas NeJaime, faculty director of the UCLA School of Law's Williams Institute for LGBTQ issues, said the protection churches and religious organizations have in choosing troop leaders depends on how a state's anti-discrimination law is written.
“A lot of this is pretty unsettled,” NeJaime said. In many states, it depends on whether it can be proven that the person being hired is directly helping to fulfill the nonprofit's religious mission, explained NeJaime.
Wisconsin governor Scott Walker is expressing opposition to the change in Scout policy. “I'm an Eagle Scout, my kids were in scouts, my mom was a den mother,” Walker said. “I think their previous policy was perfectly fine.”
Walker told IJReview.com that his concerns are to preserve the Judeo-Christian values of Scouting, and to protect vulnerable young boys. “I support the previous membership policy because it protected children and advanced Scout values,” he said.
Responding to gay criticism of Walker's personal comments, spokeswoman AshLee Strong explained, “The previous policy protected Scouts from the rancorous political debate over policy issues and culture wars. Scouts should not be used as a political football on issues that can often be heated and divisive.”