Boy Scouts allow gay Scouts, but leave ban on gay leaders in place
The Boy Scouts of America voted to lift a ban on gay Scouts, but critics say a decision to maintain a ban on gay Scout leaders sends a mixed message and leaves the issue unsettled.
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"Willingness to change is wonderful, but they are terribly misguided in this,” says John O’Connor, executive director of Equality California. He says the Boy Scouts “is about leadership … and leadership embraces diversity. What does it say to a kid to tell him, 'You can be part of this for now, but the moment you turn 18 you are not allowed to be part of this, you are different'.… It teaches others to discriminate against them.”
Andrew Koppelman, coauthor of "A Right to Discriminate? How the Case of Boy Scouts of America v. James Dale Warped the Law of Free Association," calls the compromise "weird and unstable." "Clearly there is stronger opposition to gay Scoutmasters than to gay Scouts, and this vote reflects that,” he says.
Asked why the BSA did not lift the ban on openly gay Scout leaders, the organization said in an e-mail to the Monitor:
“The review confirmed that this issue remains among the most complex and challenging issues facing the BSA and society today. Even with the wide range of input, it was extremely difficult to accurately quantify the potential impact of maintaining or changing the current policy. While perspectives and opinions vary significantly, parents, adults in the Scouting community, and teens alike tend to agree that youth should not be denied the benefits of Scouting.”
Considering the depth of feeling on all sides, a better course might have been to allow individual troops to make decisions rather than to have one national policy, says Linda McClain, a professor at Boston University School of Law.
“It is a shame that the option of letting individual Scout troops decide for themselves was not pursued,” she says. Even though both sides would have considered it a compromise of principle, “this compromise, in light of internal division within the BSA, would have allowed different troops to make their own choices.”
"It is likely there would be considerable variation among the Scout troops, based on region, sponsor, and the like,” she adds.
She says Thursday's decision could open the door to more steps in the future.
“It is striking to consider that the younger generation, generally, is far more accepting of homosexuality and of laws allowing a same-sex couple to marry,” says Professor McClain. “This is true even among religious young people. Some will probably conclude that it is only a matter of time before this generational shift in attitudes is reflected in the BSA leadership. “
BSA delegate Snyder said he was heartened after the vote when he met a group of Scout leaders from Tucson, Ariz., who said they voted against lifting the ban. “But they said, 'We’re glad it’s done, and we’re back to working on Scouting tomorrow.' ”