Mormon Church to accept gay Boy Scouts

In a major step regarding openness in the Boy Scouts of America, Mormon Church officials have approved the Scout organization's acceptance of gay Scouts. Still, the new ruling remains controversial because it bans gay Scout leaders.

Tony Gutierrez/AP
James Oliver (l.) puts his arm around his brother and fellow Eagle Scout, Will Oliver, who is gay, as Will and other supporters carry petitions to end the ban on gay Scouts and leaders in front of the Boy Scouts of America headquarters in Dallas.

For the Boy Scouts of America (BSA), a new effort to chart a middle ground on the issues of sexual orientation is proving controversial.

The proposed policy by the Boy Scouts, announced recently, is to welcome youths into the organization, regardless of sexual orientation, but to maintain a ban on gay adults serving in the organization. The proposal must be approved by the Scouts’ National Council at a meeting in Texas the week of May 20.

It’s an effort to quell rising controversy, but it comes with its own ability to stir passionate arguments.

On the one hand, an important ally of the Boy Scouts, the Mormon Church, has given an important welcome to the move. Important because of the religion’s large involvement in Scouts, along with other churches.

On the other hand, many groups and individual Americans are voicing criticism of the Scouts’ proposal as not going far enough. If a young man earns his way to be an Eagle Scout, they ask, is it fair to bar him from becoming a troop leader later in life, based on sexual orientation?

The Boy Scouts of America is walking a line more difficult than many a woodland ropes course: Any position it takes will come in for significant criticism.

Among Boy Scouts members in the heavily Mormon Great Salt Lake Council, some 4 in 5 Scout leaders and parents said they're opposed to lifting the ban on gays, The Associated Press reported. Nearly half of some 4,700 respondents to the survey said they would quit the Scouts if the ban on gays is lifted.

But the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints said Thursday that “while the Church has not launched any campaign either to effect or prevent a policy change, we have followed the discussion and are satisfied that BSA has made a thoughtful, good-faith effort to address issues that, as they have said, remain ‘among the most complex and challenging issues facing the BSA and society today.’

The statement is significant, because of the strong role that Mormon churches and families nationwide play in sponsoring Scout groups. The church sponsors 25 percent of all local Cub Scout and Boy Scout groups, and accounts for 15 percent of the Boys Scouts’ total membership of 2.7 million, according to a Saturday news report in The New York Times.

The Boy Scouts of America, defending its proposed policy, said in a recent statement that “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.”

At the same time, many people involved in Scouting nationwide are reluctant to change the current policy on adults in the group. The group’s current policy is that “While the BSA does not proactively inquire about sexual orientation of employees, volunteers, or members, we do not grant membership to individuals who are open or avowed homosexuals or who engage in behavior that would become a distraction to the mission of the BSA.”

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