Gay-rights groups were elated Monday after the Boy Scouts of America announced that it was considering dropping its long-standing national policy of disallowing open homosexuals from participating in its activities, but traditional-family groups were quick to condemn the shift.
If adopted next week, the change would permit local BSA organizations to decide "how to address this issue" at their level.
"The pulse of equality is strong in America, and today it beats a bit faster with news that the Boy Scouts may finally put an end to its long history of discrimination," said Chad Griffin, president of the Human Rights Campaign. "Our nation and its leaders respect lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender citizens, and it's time the Boy Scouts echo those values."
Zach Wahls, a gay Eagle Scout and founder of Scouts for Equality, said the proposed change "would be an incredible step forward in the right direction." His group estimates that 11 local BSA councils already have taken a stand against the policy, and more would do so if it was lifted.
The Family Research Council, however, urged the BSA to maintain its principled positions.
"The mission of the Boy Scouts is 'to instill values in young people' and 'prepare them to make ethical choices,' and the Scouts' oath includes a pledge 'to do my duty to God' and keep himself 'morally straight,'" said Tony Perkins, president of the Family Research Council.
"It is entirely reasonable and not at all unusual for those passages to be interpreted as requiring abstinence from homosexual conduct," he said.
If the BSA board "capitulates to the bullying of homosexual activists," added Mr. Perkins, "the Boy Scouts' legacy of producing great leaders will become yet another casualty of moral compromise. The Boy Scouts should stand firm in their timeless values and respect the right of parents to discuss these sexual topics with their children."
According to a November Gallup/USA Today poll, the American public does not support lifting the BSA ban, which was reaffirmed in July.
Asked "Do you think the Boy Scouts of America should or should not allow openly gay adults to serve as Boy Scout leaders," 52 percent of 1,105 adults said "no, should not," while 42 percent said "yes, should" and 6 percent had no opinion, according to the poll.
The BSA announcement was made Monday by spokesman Deron Smith, who said that the organization "is discussing potentially removing the national membership restriction regarding sexual orientation."
The current policy does not "grant membership" to open or avowed homosexuals, or people who engage in behavior that would become "a distraction to the mission."
Removal of the national policy would mean that "chartered organizations that oversee and deliver Scouting would accept membership or select leaders consistent with each organization's mission, principles or religious beliefs," Mr. Smith said.
Many people, including gay Scouts and BSA leaders, such as AT&T Chief Executive Randall Stephensen and Ernst & Young Chief Executive James Turley, have opposed the policy.
If the national policy is abandoned and decisions fall to local organizations, situations may arise as in Cloverly, Md.
In September, the community's BSA Pack 442 voted to "not discriminate" against any individual or family based on sexual orientation.
The National Capital Area Council, which governs the Maryland pack, contested the decision, and Pack 442 said it removed its statement to avoid losing its charter, which expires Jan. 31. It plans to discuss the "rechartering" issue at a Feb. 3 meeting, the pack said on its website.
According to media reports and the Gay and Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation, BSA packs in California and Ohio have forfeited their charters over the policy. Last year, a Jewish academy in New Jersey said it could not renew its Boy Scout charter because of the BSA's "egregious" policy.
The United Way of Greater Cleveland also announced last year that it would not include BSA in its appeals.
"As a private organization, they have the right to determine who they serve and who will serve them. We, however, have the right to fund only those organizations that comply with our new policy," said Paul Clark, the board chairman of United Way of Cleveland, referring to the addition of "sexual orientation" to United Way's diversity policy.
BSA even ran into headwinds with its upcoming series, "Are You Tougher Than a Boy Scout?"
The series, designed to show that Scouting is "cool," is still set to air on the National Geographic Channel, but was lambasted by gay-rights groups for the BSA's policy.
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