Leaders of Boy Scouts of America voted — and ratified — a proposal to change its adult membership policy to admit gay and lesbian adults as leaders, employees and volunteers.
Religious organizations that charter BSA units will still be permitted to select their leaders according to their own values, the new policy states.
Moreover, “all other leader requirements” — including pledging one’s “duty to God”; possessing “moral, educational and emotional qualities” as a leader; and abiding by the Scout Oath, Scout Law, Declaration of Religious Principle and BSA’s behavioral standards — would remain in effect.
Some 79 percent of those present and voting at the BSA National Executive Board agreed to the proposal, the BSA said Monday night.
“For far too long, this issue has divided and distracted us,” BSA National President Robert M. Gates said after the vote. “Now it’s time to unite behind our shared belief in the extraordinary power of Scouting to be a force for good in a community and in the lives of its youth members.”
Zach Wahls, who started Scouts for Equality to persuade the BSA to change its policy, was pleased with the vote. “As of this vote, the Boy Scouts of America is an organization that is looking forward, not back,” he said Monday night.
The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints, however, said “the admission of openly gay leaders is inconsistent with the doctrines of the Church and what have traditionally been the values of the Boy Scouts of America.”
LDS leaders will discuss the Scouting issue in August, the church said Monday night.
Separately, a legal analysis from a former BSA attorney is warning churches that they will be at “greater legal risk” of maintaining their own biblical views of human sexuality in Scouting, despite what the BSA says about its new policy.
The church-chartered troop “will likely be sued the moment it tries to revoke the membership of the homosexual member who wears his uniform to the Gay Pride Parade, revokes or denies membership to an adult who publicly gets married to someone of the same sex, or denied membership to the girl who believes she is actually a male,” Richard John Mathews, former legal counsel to the BSA and now general counsel of Trail Life USA, wrote in a July 22 legal memorandum.
Despite BSA assertions, Mr. Mathews wrote, “a church that chooses to maintain ties with BSA could very well lose the ability to teach biblical principles of sexual morality to its Scouts and to require them to adhere to those principles.”
The BSA declined to comment on outside opinions, but pointed to its own documents that spell out “why” the BSA must reconsider its adult leader standards, and how the new policy will affect religious chartered organizations.
It is not immediately apparent how major religious BSA chartering organizations will react. Requested comment from National Catholic Committee on Scouting was not immediately available.
The Southern Baptist Convention (SBC), however, may find the new policy a bridge too far.
“At every point, the Scout leadership tells us that they will go this far and no farther, but here we are again. So it’s hard for me to believe, in the long term, that the Boy Scouts will allow religious groups to have the freedom to choose their own leaders,” Russell Moore, president of the SBC’s Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission, told Baptist Press July 14.
“In recent years, I have seen a definite cooling on the part of Baptist churches toward the Scouts,” Mr. Moore said. This new policy of admitting gay and lesbian adults into Scouting “will probably bring that cooling to a freeze.”
The BSA, founded in 1910, said in legal documents that its sea-change in membership policy is necessary because prohibiting gay and lesbian adults is an “unwinnable” legal position.
Already many jurisdictions prohibit discrimination by sexual orientation and gender identity, and the BSA has already dropped its previous policy — which allowed it to prevail in the Supreme Court in the Dale case in 2000 — that said homosexuality is immoral and unclean, the BSA said in its July 8 paper, “Why the BSA Must Reconsider the Adult Leader Standards.”
Setting a new national policy that permits chartering organizations to hire gays and lesbians, while allowing religious organizations, backed by the First Amendment protection of religious freedom, to maintain their own standards for adult leaders, will “preserve” the BSA “for generations to come,” the BSA paper said.
The new policy, which goes into effect immediately, says: “No adult applicant for registration as an employee or non-unit-serving volunteer, who otherwise meets the requirements of the Boy Scouts of America, may be denied registration on the basis of sexual orientation.”
It “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 right of each chartering organization “to reach its own religious and moral conclusions about the specific meaning and application of these values” is affirmed. In addition, chartering organizations have the right to “select adult leaders who support those conclusions in word and deed, and who will best inculcate the organization’s values through the Scouting program.”