NBC News‚Äô respected openly gay Justice Correspondent Pete Williams reports that the Boy Scouts may be close to ending their ban on gays joining or serving as scout leaders in their private youth organization. The Boy Scouts of America have long gloated over the 2000 decision by the US Supreme Court holding that the BSA was a private religious organization that had a First Amendment to discriminate under the right of free expression and could impose their belief that homosexuality is inconsistent with the scout‚Äôs oath to be ‚Äúmorally straight.‚ÄĚ
The Boy Scouts of America, one of the nation‚Äôs largest private youth organizations, is actively considering an end to its decades-long policy of banning gay scouts or scout leaders, according to scouting officials and outsiders familiar with internal discussions.
If adopted by the organization‚Äôs board of directors, it would represent a profound change on an issue that has been highly controversial — one that even went to the US Supreme Court. The new policy, now under discussion, would eliminate the ban from the national organization‚Äôs rules, leaving local sponsoring organizations free to decide for themselves whether to admit gay scouts.
‚ÄúThe chartered organizations that oversee and deliver scouting would accept membership and select leaders consistent with their organization‚Äôs mission, principles or religious beliefs,‚ÄĚ according to Deron Smith, a spokesman for the Boy Scouts‚Äô national organization.
Individual sponsors and parents ‚Äúwould be able to choose a local unit which best meets the needs of their families,‚ÄĚ Smith said.
The discussion of a potential change in policy is nearing its final stages, according to outside scouting supporters. If approved, the change could be announced as early as next week, after the BSA’s national board holds a regularly scheduled meeting.
As Williams points out, the Boy Scouts top leaders re-affirmed their antigay policy only seven months ago. But their grassroots chapters urged reconsideration since local funding groups ‚Äď such as the United Way ‚Äď have stopped backing the groups since the ban violates their non-discrimination policy. Additionally, Williams reports,
‚ÄúTwo corporate CEOs on BSA‚Äôs national board, Randall Stephenson of AT&T and James Turley of Ernst & Young, have also said they would work to end the ban. Stephenson is next in line to be the BSA‚Äôs national chairman‚Ä¶..
An official of The Human Rights Campaign, an advocate for gay rights, said HRC planned to downgrade its non-discrimination ratings for corporations that continue to give the BSA financial support.
‚ÄúIt‚Äôs an extremely complex issue,‚ÄĚ said one Boy Scouts of America official, who explained that other organizations have threatened to withdraw their financial support if the BSA drops the ban.‚ÄĚ
What‚Äôs complex is the BSA‚Äôs very public attitude toward the LGBT community – which LGBT organizations like GLAAD have publicized to great effect.¬† It became a de facto culture war. In 2003-2004, for instance, in response to threats to withdraw funding by the United Way for not following their diversity code, the BSA constructed ‚Äústrategies‚ÄĚ that ‚Äúdenies the gay movement the opportunity to claim the ‚ÄėBSA [is] being kicked out of United Way‚Äô as a victory.‚ÄĚ
Meanwhile, the Los Angeles Police Department ‚Äď under pressure from the LA City Council and the local LGBT community ‚Äď severed tied with the BSA-sponsored Learning for Life youth program without the sky falling. LA Sheriff Lee Baca told me long ago that he wanted to ‚Äúchange the Boy Scouts from within‚ÄĚ ‚Äď while touting the LASD‚Äôs relationship with the BSA: ‚ÄúThe Law Enforcement Explorer Program is a Sheriff’s Department youth oriented program. It is affiliated with the special interest phase of the Boy Scouts of America.‚ÄĚ ¬†¬† Since the LASD holds contracts with cities such as West Hollywood, that LGBT-positive city ordered their local sheriff‚Äôs station (which has a lesbian Captain) to disassociate their Explorer Scouts program from the BSA.
Perhaps Iowa Republican Dave Kochel said it best:¬†‚ÄúThe culture wars are over. And the Republicans, largely, lost.‚ÄĚ
Maybe the BSA has used its scouting tools to discover that truth, too.