- The Washington Times - Thursday, May 21, 2015

The president of Boy Scouts of America called for a change to its ban on gay adults, and told BSA councils already defying the policy he would not revoke their charters.

Despite his promise not to “reopen” the divisive gay-membership issues, BSA President Robert M. Gates told Scout leaders Thursday that the “status quo” is now unsustainable.

Recent events — such as state fights over religious liberty laws, a gay marriage case before the Supreme Court and employment discrimination laws that increasingly define gays as a protected class — have “confronted us with urgent challenges I did not foresee and which we cannot ignore,” Mr. Gates said at the national BSA leadership meeting in Atlanta.

If the BSA waits for a lawsuit challenging its adult membership policy — which prohibits open homosexuals from serving as BSA leaders, volunteers or employees — “we could end up with a broad ruling that could forbid any kind of membership standard, including our foundational belief in our duty to God and our focus on serving the specific need of boys,” Mr. Gates said.

He urged the BSA to be “seize control of our future,” and, in his view, change the adult membership policy to allow chartering organizations “to determine the standards for their Scout leaders” for themselves.

“Such an approach would allow all churches, which sponsor some 70 percent of our Scout units, to establish leadership standards consistent with their faith,” said Mr. Gates. “We must, at all costs,” he added, “preserve the religious freedom of our church partners to do this.”

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They may soon not have a choice though, something Mr. Gates was at pains to point out. New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman’s office has opened an investigation into whether the BSA’s employment practices discriminate against gays.

The policy also is being challenged from within. In April, the Greater New York Councils of the BSA defied national policy by hiring openly gay Eagle Scout Pascal Tessier as a summer camp leader.

Mr. Gates said Thursday that despite the BSA’s authority to revoke charters of local groups that ignore national rules, “I will not take that path.”

Requests for comment from Mormon and Catholic organizations were not immediately responded to Thursday. However, the media office of the BSA said it was important to note that “no decisions were made” at this week’s national annual meeting.

Mr. Gates called for feedback from BSA leaders across the nation, but said the BSA executive committee, national executive board and legal counsel would be crafting a strategy.

Mr. Gates’ announcement was received favorably by most people who commented on the blog for BSA adult leaders written by Bryan Wendell, senior editor of Boys’ Life, Scouting and Eagles’ Call magazines. “Very nice speech and clearly shows why Dr. Gates is the right man to lead us now,” wrote one man.

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One commenter, however, suggested that conservative families and organizations are now likely to depart BSA rather than risk the “stalking” of young males by men who seek sex from other males. Another commenter denounced this as bigotry, saying, “Gay men are no more likely to ‘stalk’ children than anyone else.”

Many conservative Christian families have already departed the BSA, after its leaders voted in 2013 to admit openly homosexual youth to its ranks.

Some of those families formed Trail Life USA, which is based on “timeless Christian values” and is set up to carefully shepherd its limited funds, as well as its youth and volunteers.

“Trail Life USA is saddened by the announcement regarding the anticipated membership change in Boy Scouts of America, as many families and boys will be negatively affected by this departure from their own long-standing principles,” Trail Life USA Chairman of the Board John Stemberger said in a statement to The Washington Times.

“It is tragic that the BSA is willing to risk the safety and security of its boys because of peer pressure from activists’ groups,” Mr. Stemberger said. Trail Life USA, he noted, has 23,000 members in 48 states since its official launch on Jan. 1, 2014.

Gay rights advocates urged the BSA to just lift the ban on gay adults outright.

“While our work won’t be done until we see a full end to their ban on gay adults once and for all, today’s announcement is a significant step in that direction,” said Zach Wahls, an Eagle Scout raised by lesbian parents. He founded Scouts for Equality to support other gay parents who were blocked from participating in Scouting.

“Half measures are unacceptable,” said Chad Griffin, president of the Human Rights Campaign, who urged the BSA to “embrace a full national policy of inclusion that does not discriminate against anyone because of who they are.”

• Cheryl Wetzstein can be reached at cwetzstein@washingtontimes.com.

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