What will half-measures avail the Boy Scouts of America?
The Boy Scouts of America (BSA) announced on April 19 a proposal to lift its ban on gay youth members. The Associated Press reported, “The Scouts announced Friday that it would submit this proposal to the roughly 1,400 voting members of its National Council at a meeting in Texas the week of May 20.”
Deron Smith, the BSA’s spokesman, told Reuters: “If the vote is approved, ‘no youth may be denied membership in the Boy Scouts of America on the basis of sexual orientation or preference alone.’”
The ban on gay scout leaders would still apply even if the proposal is adopted.
The BSA had previously suggested the possibility of granting local units the power to either admit or deny both adult leaders and youth members who identify as gay.
“Gay-rights groups have demanded a complete lifting of the ban,” AP reports, but “some churches and conservative groups want it maintained.”
This shift may seem sudden after the BSA’s recent refusal to reconsider its homophobic policy, but the proposal is partially in response to surveys completed by scout members across the country. Smith said that the decision is “among the most complex and challenging issues facing the BSA and society today.”
In a written release, the Human Rights Campaign said the BSA must go further.
“Parents and adults of good moral character, regardless of sexual orientation, should be able to volunteer their time to mentor the next generation of Americans,” said Chad Griffin, HRC's president. “What message does this resolution send to the gay Eagle Scout who, as an adult, wants to continue a lifetime of scouting by becoming a troop leader?”
In 2000, the US Supreme Court upheld the right of the Boy Scouts, as a private organization, to exclude gay members and leaders, based on its freedom of association under the First Amendment. That decision came in response to a suit filed by James Dale, a gay former Eagle Scout denied the right to serve as a leader in the organization. Dale had prevailed at the New Jersey Supreme Court, but the BSA managed to have that ruling overturned.