by Katia Hetterm, CNN
The Boy Scouts of America would no longer deny membership to youth on the basis of sexual orientation but would maintain its ban on openly gay adult leaders under a proposal it is considering, the group announced in April.
The organization’s executive committee made the proposal, which is expected to be presented to the Boy Scouts’ voting members at its May meeting in Dallas. If the policy is approved, it will take effect January 1, 2014.
“If approved, the resolution would mean that ‘no youth may be denied membership in the Boy Scouts of America on the basis of sexual orientation or preference alone.’ The BSA will maintain the current membership policy for all adults,” Boy Scouts public relations director Deron Smith said.
In February, the Boy Scouts’ national executive board postponed a vote on lifting its outright ban on openly gay Scouts and troop leaders and ordered a survey of its members on the issue.
The survey showed a generational split between adults and youth in the scouting community. While most adults support the Boy Scouts’ current policy of “excluding open and avowed homosexuals, young parents and teens tend to oppose the policy,” according to the survey.
The change doesn’t go far enough for James Dale, an Eagle Scout and former assistant troop leader who sued the scouts under New Jersey state law after he was kicked out of the Boy Scouts in 1990 because he is gay.
“This proposal continues to send a destructive message, offering the veneer of acceptance while still communicating that being gay is immoral,” Dale said. “Fair-minded Americans will not again welcome the Scouts until they stop discriminating.”
Dale’s lawsuit, filed in 1992, said his expulsion violated the state’s anti-discrimination law. When his case made it to the Supreme Court in 2000, the court ruled that it would violate the Boy Scouts’ First Amendment protection of freedom of association to require that it accept gay members.
Lawyer Evan Wolfson, who represented Dale in that case, applauded the move to include gay youth in scouting but agreed that banning them once they’re adults is wrong.
Former Eagle Scout John Stemberger, founder of OnMyHonor.Net, a group opposing the policy change, said the Boy Scouts currently allow anyone to participate, disallowing only “the open and aggressive promotion of homosexuality and political agendas,” according to a statement.
“When it comes to young boys, parents should still have the final say on the issues of sexuality and politics,” he said. “Allowing open homosexuality in the BSA injects both those topics right into the program. We urge the national council to vote against this resolution and uphold the time-tested membership policy of the Boy Scouts.”
The Family Research Council hopes to convince the voting members to vote no. The group is presenting a Stand with the Scouts simulcast on May 5, asking people to watch together in their churches and homes.
“The outcome of this decision will affect the very future of Scouting, as a shift in the policy would undermine the very principles held by the BSA for over a century,” said the council on its website. “This decision is too important for those who value the Boy Scouts and its value to American communities to stand idly by.”
Provo, Utah, Scout leader Paul Barker sees the glass as half full.
“I am forever an optimist, and I see it as a very big step forward in the right direction to which I will applaud,” said Barker, an Eagle Scout and married father of four, ages four months to seven years.
Saddened by recent stories of Eagle Scouts turning in their badges, Barker launched Ally Patches to support gay Scouts and their allies and create an atmosphere that’s more welcoming.
Barker’s website is selling patches, similar to those that Scouts earn, to signal support for gay members. [The price tag is $3.50 per patch, and $1 goes to the Family Acceptance Project.]
“I had great, great leaders [in the Scouts]; they were like second parents to me,” he said. “I took their example of love and compassion and wanted to do something.”