Boy Scouts Lift Ban on Gay Youth, Will Continue Excluding Gay Adults

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Photo: Tony Gutierrez

On Thursday, the Boy Scouts of America attempted to end the long controversy over its ban on gay members, but the compromise managed to anger people on both sides of the issue. In a vote that included about 1,400 Scout leaders, more than 60 percent approved a measure stating that no youth will be denied membership “on the basis of sexual orientation or preference alone.” However, the prohibition on homosexual adults in staff or volunteer leadership roles will remain, meaning that once gay Scouts turn 18, they'll be asked to leave the organization.

Boy Scouts of America has banned homosexuals for decades, and the practice was upheld by the Supreme Court in 2000. While the policy has been revised many times throughout the years, the general rationale against accepting gays was outlined in this statement from 1991:  “We believe that homosexual conduct is inconsistent with the requirement in the Scout Oath that a Scout be morally straight and in the Scout Law that a Scout be clean in word and deed, and that homosexuals do not provide a desirable role model for Scouts.” The policy on adults has a large impact on the organization, as it's common for former Boy Scouts to remain active in the group. Boy Scouts of America currently has 2.7 million youth members and 1 million adult members.

Several sponsors, including the UPS Foundation, Merck, and the Intel Foundation, stopped supporting the organization over its ban on gays, and the new policy probably doesn't go far enough to bring them back. “We’ll continue urging corporate donors and public officials to withhold their support,” said Richard Ferraro, GLAAD’s vice president for communications.

The Mormon church, which is the largest sponsor of Scout troops, said it agrees with the decision and "moves forward in its association" with the group, and so far no large religious organizations have withdrawn their support. Several smaller religious groups fought hard against lifting the ban, and it's unclear what action they'll take.

However, there was no shortage of parents lamenting the inclusion of gay youths. Rob Schwarzwalder of Virginia told the Washington Post that he'll soon pull his 15-year-old twins from the group. “I don’t want my sons to leave my home [when they grow up] thinking, ‘Dad was pretty principled except when it mattered,’ ” he said. Allison Mackey, a Pennsylvania mother of five Scouts, told the New York Times her family has also decided to go. “To stand by principles would be difficult,” she said. “But we’re going to have to say no. The organization is giving up freedom.”

Soon they might have an alternative. John Stemberger, an evangelical leader from Florida, said parents and groups opposing the ban will meet in Louisville, Ky. next month to discuss the possibility of creating another “character development organization for boys" — one that's more committed to excluding gay people than the Boy Scouts of America.