Resolution Would End Boy Scout Ban on Gay Leaders—One More Step in the Right Direction

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July 13, 2015; Deseret News (Salt Lake City, UT)

A draft resolution that would end the ban on gay leaders in the Boy Scouts of America was unanimously approved by its executive committee last Friday and is expected to be ratified by the National Executive Board on July 27th.

The policy would stop short of requiring councils to observe non-discriminatory policies, leaving those decisions up to them. It has accompanied the draft resolution with a legal opinion about councils’ right to choose. The LDS Church, for instance, said in a statement on Monday, “As a chartering organization, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints has always had the right to select Scout leaders who adhere to moral and religious principles that are consistent with our doctrines and beliefs,” according to statement Monday. Any resolution adopted by the Boy Scouts of America regarding leadership in Scouting must continue to affirm that right.”

The new policy will, however, allow members and parents to choose local councils and troops that adhere most closely to their own belief systems if they exist in their areas.

NPQ suggested in May that a speech given by former Defense Secretary Robert Gates at a national meeting of the BSA essentially signaled that there would be some action on this issue. He declared:

“We must deal with the world as it is, not as we might wish it to be. The status quo in our movement’s membership standards cannot be sustained. We can expect more councils to openly challenge the current policy. While technically we have the authority to revoke their charters, such an action would deny the lifelong benefits of scouting to hundreds of thousands of boys and young men today and vastly more in the future. I will not take that path.

“Moreover, dozens of states—from New York to Utah—are passing laws that protect employment rights on the basis of sexual orientation. Thus, between internal challenges and potential legal conflicts, the BSA finds itself in an unsustainable position. A position that makes us vulnerable to the possibility the courts simply will order us at some point to change our membership policy. We must all understand that this probably will happen sooner rather than later.

“In 2010, a federal district judge in California overturned the military’s Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell and the reversal was applied nationwide immediately. Only a stay granted by the appeals court—granted, I believe, mainly because we were in the process of changing the law—prevented dramatic disruption in the armed forces. We cannot predict if or when this might happen to us, but I personally believe our legal defenses have weakened since the dale case. And if we wait for the courts to act, we could end up with a broad ruling that could forbid any kind of membership standard, including our foundational belief in our duty to God and our focus on serving the specific needs of boys.

“Waiting for the courts is a gamble with huge stakes. Alternatively, we can move at some future date—but sooner rather than later—to seize control of our own future, set our own course and change our policy in order to allow charter partners—unit sponsoring organizations—to determine the standards for their scout leaders. Such an approach would allow all churches, which sponsor some 70 percent of our scout units, to establish leadership standards consistent with their faith.

“We must, at all costs, preserve the religious freedom of our church partners to do this. Our oath calls upon us to do our duty to God and our country. The country is changing and we are increasingly at odds with the legal landscape at both the state and federal levels. And, as a movement, we find ourselves with a policy more than a few of our church sponsors reject—thus placing scouting between a boy and his church.

“The challenges are before us now. The executive committee, the national executive board and our legal counsel will work to determine our responses and our best strategy. We want and value your thoughts on all this, recognizing the importance of protecting our core values. The one thing we cannot do is put our heads in the sand and pretend this challenge will go away or abate. Quite the opposite is happening.”

Prior to that speech, however, the BSA provided any number of “tells” indicating that they were headed inexorably in this direction—even in the choice of Gates as its president. Gates, of course, as Secretary of Defense presided over the elimination of the military’s “Don’t ask, don’t tell” policy. While he openly declared as he took office at the BSA that he had no intentions of promoting a reversal of the restriction on adult leaders who are openly gay, the choice in and of itself appeared a relatively clear indicator of the direction the BSA was headed, step by step.

This latest decision stops short of censuring any unit of BSA not participating in the new inclusive policy, but more steps are likely to come. After all, yesterday it emerged that the Pentagon is moving to allow transgender people to serve openly and that it is describing any policy that would not support their service as “outdated.”—Ruth McCambridge