Boy Scouts gay ban generating emotional debate on both sides
The proposed policy shift, which the Scouts' national board will discuss next week in Irving, Texas, follows a decades-long effort to exclude homosexual boys and adult leaders. It also coincides with growing public support for gay rights and pressure on the Scouts from corporations, some local governments and even members of its board to eliminate the ban.
"The policy change under discussion would allow the religious, civic or educational organizations that oversee and deliver Scouting to determine how to address this issue," spokesman Deron Smith said in a statement. "The Boy Scouts would not, under any circumstances, dictate a position to units, members or parents."
Gay rights advocates welcomed the prospect of change.
"The Boy Scouts of America have heard from Scouts, corporations and millions of Americans that discriminating against gay Scouts and Scout leaders is wrong," said Herndon Graddick, president of the Gay and Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation. "Scouting is a valuable institution, and this change will only strengthen its core principles of fairness and respect."
Rick Barnes, Scout executive of Utah's Great Salt Lake Council, would not say whether he and other leaders in his area would support a policy shift if the national board made one.
"We'll wait and see how that shakes out," he said.
But Tony Perkins, president of the Family Research Council, a conservative Christian group and lobbying organization, declared his opposition and accused the Scouts of bowing to pressure.
"If the board capitulates to the bullying of homosexual activists, the Boy Scouts' legacy of producing great leaders will become yet another casualty of moral compromise," Perkins said in a statement.
The proposed change — which is likely to be opposed by some religious organizations and others — is the result of "a long-standing dialogue within the Scouting family," Smith said.
"Last year Scouting realized the policy caused some volunteers and chartered organizations ... to act in conflict with their missions, principles or religious beliefs," he said. "It's important to note this policy would not require any chartered organization to act in ways inconsistent with that organization's mission, principles or religious beliefs."
Although Smith said there was no particular impetus for the proposed change, society's attitudes are shifting. An NBC News/Wall Street Journal poll conducted in December found that 51% favored or strongly favored same-sex marriage, with 40% opposed. In 2004, the same poll found 30% in favor and 61% against.
-- Kim Christensen
Photo: A statue stands in front of the National Scouting Museum on Monday in Irving, Texas. Credit: LM Otero / Associated Press