A key Boy Scouts of America panel has approved lifting the ban on “open or avowed homosexuals” as BSA leaders and volunteers, and the final formal decision is expected before the end of the month.
The BSA announced Monday on its website that its National Executive Committee had unanimously adopted a resolution that would let adults lead Boy Scout troops without regard “to sexual orientation” if the local chartering organizations wish.
The BSA National Executive Board, a broader body than the executive committee, is widely expected to ratify the change at a July 27 meeting and have it take effect immediately.
The revised policy will both end the ban while respecting “the right of religious chartered organizations to continue to choose adult leaders whose beliefs are consistent with their own,” the BSA said.
BSA National President Robert Gates virtually spelled out the change in a speech in May, saying that “rapid changes in society” and “increasing legal challenges” made the BSA’s adult membership policy unsustainable.
Eagle Scout Zach Wahls, executive director of Scouts for Equality, a group formed to overturn the BSA’s ban on homosexual adults, said the latest move was “not perfect,” but carried importance that was “difficult to overstate.”
The vote “hopefully marks the beginning of the end of the Boy Scouts of America’s decades-old ban on gay leaders and parents, like my two moms,” Mr. Wahls said, noting that the hiring of Pascal Tessier, an openly gay Eagle Scout from Maryland by a major New York BSA council, helped make it clear that the ban on gay adults could not stand.
The BSA’s background information about the new resolution emphasizes the group’s commitment to religious freedom and its core values about reverence to God and duty to country.
It also carried a reminder that “any sexual conduct, whether heterosexual or homosexual,” by youth of Scouting age “is contrary to the virtues of Scouting.”
It mentions hiring gay adult leaders, but doesn’t specifically talk about bisexual or transgender adults.
However, the background material states that local organizations can hire who they wish.
The BSA “affirms that sexual relations between adults should be moral, honorable, committed, and respectful. Adult Scout leaders should reflect these values in their personal and public lives so as to be proper role models for youth. The Boy Scouts of America affirms the right of each chartering organization to reach its own religious and moral conclusions about the specific meaning and application of these values,” the background material said.
Initial reactions ranged from approval to a warning that the BSA still hasn’t gone far enough.
The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, which had more than 400,000 youth in Scouting in 2010, said Monday it “has always had the right to select Scout leaders who adhere to moral and religious principles that are consistent with our doctrines and beliefs.”
“Any resolution adopted by the Boy Scouts of America regarding leadership in the Scouting must continue to affirm that right,” said the LDS Church, which has previously stressed that Scouting “exists to serve and benefit youth, rather than Scout leaders,” and that a “single standard of moral purity” is expected for youth as well as emphasis “for Scouts to honor their duty to God.”
A requested comment from the National Catholic Committee on Scouting (NCCS) was not immediately available Monday. In May, however, Edward P. Martin, national chairman of NCCS, said they expected to continue with BSA “until such time as BSA rules conflict with Catholic teaching.”
Such a conflict “hasn’t happened yet, nor do we expect it to happen,” Mr. Martin said. The BSA said in 2010 there were more than 285,000 Catholic youth in Scouting programs.
Still, some observers chastised the BSA for taking only a half-step.
“While today’s announcement by the Boy Scouts of America’s Executive Committee to allow chartered organizations to select adult leaders without regard to sexual orientation is a step toward equality within the organization, there is still work to be done,” Rep. Mike Quigley, Illinois Democrat, told The Washington Times.
“The resolution passed by the committee ends the outright ban on gay adults, but discrimination based on sexual orientation is still allowed,” he said.
“We won’t achieve full equality in this country until people are no longer discriminated against based on perceived or actual sexual orientation or gender identity,” said the congressman, adding that he applauded Mr. Gates for “making a case for this change” in May.
The BSA is taking an important step toward “erasing a stain on one of our nation’s most storied organizations,” said Chad Griffin, president of the Human Rights Campaign (HRC).
But writing in an exemption for troops organized by religious organizations “undermines the potentially historic nature” of the vote, Mr. Griffin said, adding that BSA leaders should “embrace a full national policy of inclusion that does not discriminate against anyone because of who they are.”
Rob Schwarzwalder, senior vice president of Family Research Council, decried the move, saying the BSA was “inviting incoherence” in its century-old mission to raise boys into men with virtuous, Judeo-Christian values.
The BSA has been under intense pressure to change its membership policies by “corporate sponsors, political leaders on the left and the popular culture,” said Mr. Schwarzwalder. But “they’re abandoning boys to an agenda of sexual confusion. And that’s a tragedy for our country.”
Leaders of Trail Life USA — which was formed as a Christian-centered, outdoor, character-building and youth-development organization after more than 1,000 BSA leaders voted to admit openly gay youth in 2013 — said their organization was “sad” to hear of the Boy Scouts’ decision.
“The BSA is not even going to allow the local body of national delegates to vote, making this a top-down, ramrodded decision,” said John Stemberger, Trail Life’s chairman of the board.
Meanwhile, Trail Life “is committed to its mission of building generations of courageous young men that honor God, lead with integrity, serve others and experience outdoor adventure,” said Mark Hancock, the group’s chief executive.
Trail Life USA welcomes boys of any religion or none, but requires adult leaders to sign and adhere to a Christian statement of faith. It says it has hundreds of charter organizations and nearly 25,000 members, about half of which are former BSA families.
In June, TLUSA announced it was entering into a ministry alliance with American Heritage Girls to offer “Christian-based alternatives to Girl Scouts and Boy Scouts.”