Boy Scout retreat: Impact of looming vote on gays likely to reduce membership

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A different kind of “jamboree” awaits the 1,400 delegates arriving Wednesday at the Boy Scouts of America’s national conference in Grapevine, Texas.

As the delegates consider a membership proposal to admit openly gay youths — while banning homosexual adult Scout leaders — groups of all stripes are expected to hold rallies, meetings and a summit outside the conference.


SEE ALSO: 20 members of Congress urge Boy Scouts to accept gays


No matter what it decides, the nation’s largest youth organization appears likely to take a membership hit, as local charters on the losing side of the landmark vote — expected Thursday — weigh decisions on whether to stay with the Boy Scouts of America or splinter.

Some chartering organizations will go their own way, predicts John Eastman, a constitutional scholar who has advised the Boy Scouts against broadening the membership policy.

“Quite frankly, I think that if anybody’s going to leave, it ought to be the ones that are seeking to change the organization into something it’s not, rather than those who want to adhere to what it has traditionally always been,” Mr. Eastman said. “I’m an Eagle Scout myself, my son’s an Eagle Scout and my grandfather was an Eagle Scout. This hits personal.”

The vote will directly affect the organization’s 2.7 million Scouts and 1 million volunteers.

If the proposed policy change is voted down, the current membership policy will stand, officials said. Under the policy, no one is asked about his sexual orientation, but “open or avowed homosexuals” cannot be members, leaders, volunteers or employees of the Boy Scouts of America. This policy was upheld as constitutional in the U.S. Supreme Court’s 2000 ruling in Boy Scouts of America v. Dale.

Some gay-rights groups said this week that even if the compromise policy on gay youths is adopted, it does not go far enough because it bars gay adults from participating in Scouting.


SEE ALSO: Evangelical weakness in gay Boy Scouts debate could hurt GOP


“We stand for full equality and nothing less,” John O’Connor, executive director of Equality California, said this week.

“While we are encouraged” by the Boy Scouts’ willingness to look at admitting openly gay youths, “it is still alarmingly inadequate, and it sends the message to both gay and straight youths that discrimination is OK,” Mr. O’Connor said.

He is urging support for a California lawmaker’s bill that would end state tax breaks for the Boy Scouts of America and other youth organizations that exclude gay, bisexual or transgender people.

Meanwhile, Scouts for Equality and the Inclusive Scouting Network are planning an “Equal Scouting Summit,” to be held near the Boy Scouts council meeting this week.

According to Boy Scouts of America surveys, most organizational stakeholders — including chartering groups, volunteers, unit leaders and parents — do not want to change the policy, and they also will be holding rallies and meetings at Grapevine this week.

On Tuesday, the Alliance Defending Freedom delivered a petition asking the Boy Scouts of America to keep its policy. The petition was signed by nearly 19,000 people, including almost 12,000 current or former members of the Boy Scouts. Many accuse Scouting officials of acting out of a fear of the loss of corporate sponsors.

The Rev. Matthew C. Harrison, president of the Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod, and 25 other Protestant church leaders have issued a statement asking the Boy Scouts of America not to change its policy.

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