One of the largest and most recognizable youth groups in the country has made a controversial decision that completely reverses its stance on an issue that has long polarized the American public: The Boy Scouts of America announced that it would end its ban on allowing gay adults to serve as scout leaders; however, Scout units founded by religious organizations can still enforce the ban.
“For far too long this issue has divided and distracted us,” said the BSA’s president, former Defense Secretary Robert Gates. “Now it’s time to unite behind our shared belief in the extraordinary power of Scouting to be a force for good.” The ban, which was overturned by a 45-12 vote by the BSA’s National Executive Board, will become effective immediately.
Several prominent groups that have historically supported the BSA have expressed their reactions to the ruling, offering a variety of different opinions. “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,” said The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints, the largest single organizational sponsor of Scout units, in an official statement.
On the other side of the issue stands the Human Rights Campaign, a nationwide activist group that campaigns for LGBT causes. “Discrimination should have no place in the Boy Scouts, period,” said the HRC’s president, Chad Griffin, in response to the news that the BSA would still allow religious exemptions to the ban. “BSA officials should now demonstrate true leadership and begin the process of considering a full national policy of inclusion.”
Several Scout units had already defied the ban on moral grounds, but the ban will now allow adult leaders to be selected without regards to their sexual orientation. In May, BSA president Gates noted that the ban would quickly become harmful for the organization in the long run, as it would attract lawsuits from groups like the HRC that the BSA would most likely lose.
Besides the LDS (Mormon) Church, a handful of other religious groups with ties to the BSA have weighed in on the new measure. A spokesperson for the Southern Baptist Convention noted that lifting the ban would accelerate the group’s gradual distancing from the BSA, while the National Catholic Committee insisted that it disapproves of any Scout leader that participates in any sexual encounters that do not take place within a heterosexual marriage.
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