Anticipation mounts as Boy Scouts executives vote on removal of gay leader ban

The organization's Executive Board is expected to approve a resolution Monday ending the ban, citing that it was 'no longer legally defensible.'

Mark Zaleski/AP/File
Former Defense Secretary Robert Gates addresses the Boy Scouts of America's annual meeting in Nashville, Tenn., on May 23, 2014 after being selected as the organization's new president. The BSA is expected to formally lift it's longstanding ban on gay scout leaders on Monday.

The ban on gay adults in the Boy Scouts is ending much earlier than anyone expected.

The Boy Scouts of America National Executive Board is expected to approve a resolution Monday ending the group’s ban on gay adult leaders, citing a “sea change in the law with respect to gay rights,” Reuters reported.

The change in membership policy would no longer prohibit participation by gay adults, but it would allow local units to make their own choices regarding gay leaders. In a statement on the decision, the 105-year-old organization said earlier this month that the policy banning gay adults from serving as leaders was “no longer legally defensible” – in reference to a recent US Supreme Court decision to legalize gay marriage nationwide.

“However,” the statement added, “the BSA’s commitment to duty to God and the rights of religious chartered organizations to select their leaders is unwavering.”

Conservative religious groups that have long sponsored local troops have maintained their opposition to Monday's decision, and they are still likely to play an important role in deciding who can be a scout leader.

John Stemberger, chairman of the breakaway Christian youth outdoor program Tail Life USA, told Reuters on Friday that lifting the ban will make it “even more challenging for a church to integrate a [Boy Scouts] unit as part of a church ministry’s offerings.”

The issue has deeply divided the Irving, Texas-based organization in recent years. The organization lifted its ban on gay youth in 2013 but has kept its ban on gay adults. Roberts Gates, Boy Scouts’ president and the former US Defense Secretary, called for an end to the ban on adults in May.

He added at the time that he would not push for any policy changes during the May meeting, but suggested the policy could be revised in the near future. He also stressed that religious institutions like the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and the United Methodist Church, which sponsor around 70 percent of Scout units, should also be allowed to set their own policies in regard to leadership.

Even with the caveats, groups in favor of ending the ban praised Mr. Gates’ statements earlier this year. Zach Wahls, executive director of Scouts for Equality, told Reuters in May that the comments were “a very, very positive development.”

“We are 180 degrees from where we were a year ago,” he added.

The decision to end the ban on gay adult leaders has come after the organization’s executive committee unanimously approved a resolution urging an end to the ban. This decision came weeks after a landmark ruling by the US Supreme Court to permit same-sex marriages nationwide, and as the Boy Scouts has been experiencing a prolonged decline in membership.

The organization had been seeing around a 4 percent decline in membership annually in recent years, and in 2013 membership dropped by 6 percent. The Boy Scouts of America has 2.5 million youth members and around 960,000 volunteers in local units, according to its website.

Gates, an Eagle Scout, was appointed in 2014 with an expectation that he would speak to the ban on gay adults since, as US Defense Secretary, he helped end the “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” policy that barred openly gay people from serving in the US military.

“We must deal with the world as it is, not as we might wish it to be,” Gates said in an address at the organization’s annual meeting in May. “The status quo in our movement’s membership standards cannot be sustained.”

This report includes material from Reuters.

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