Be prepared. Get on the right side of history.
I’m still not in a mood to applaud the Boy Scouts of America (BSA) for their halfway step toward ending discrimination against gay men. It’s progress, certainly, that the national Boy Scouts have ceded to the times and decided it’s not worth an expensive legal battle they would eventually lose, but I can’t endorse their willingness to continue to discriminate. What’s wrong is wrong.
It was actually sad to watch national BSA president Robert Gates gravely and joylessly acknowledge that the policy of banning adult gay men as leaders could not be sustained due to the “social, political and legal changes taking place in our country,” not to mention the “staggering” cost of defending legal challenges in multiple jurisdictions.
But Gates proved the Boy Scouts still don’t get it when he went on to note with conviction and confidence that no Boy Scout Council will be able to deny a charter to a troop that “is following the beliefs of its religious chartering organization.”
In other words, feel free to continue to discriminate.
Almost half of all Boy Scout troops are sponsored by the Roman Catholic church, the Southern Baptist Convention or the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, more commonly known as Mormons. But the largest religious group in scouting is Mormon troops, since every young boy in the church is enrolled in Scouting regardless of whether he participates. This practice results in large membership fees paid to the Boy Scouts from the Mormons, fees BSA depends upon to fund its activities. More simply put, the Boy Scouts can’t afford to let the Mormons go.
In some states where there are significant Mormon populations, such as Nevada, the church exercises an especially large influence within the Boy Scouts. That means accepting gay men as Boy Scout leaders isn’t going to happen on a large scale here, since being gay isn’t consistent with Mormon “moral and religious principles.”
People involved with Boy Scouts in Nevada have told me about the oversize influence of the Mormon Church, which has, in some cases, driven out more secular families. It seems clear that until the Mormons decide homosexuality isn’t a moral and religious choice, they’ll continue to insist on leaders who are not openly gay.
After the vote last week, when 79 percent of the BSA Executive Board members agreed to change the policy, Mormon church leaders issued a statement saying they were “deeply troubled” by the action. The Mormons indicated they would “re-evaluate” their relationship with scouting, since the admission of openly gay leaders is “inconsistent with the doctrines of the Church.”
Remember, it wasn’t until 2013 that the Boy Scouts finally relented and agreed to allow gay boys to join their organization. That move caused some of the religious troops to reconsider their status and some left the organization to create an alternative, Trail Life USA, where they can comfortably discriminate. Maybe the Mormons will move their boys to that organization instead. Maybe they should.
The opposite side of the debate was portrayed best by a potential Boy Scout leader, Jon Langbert, who told CNN he was not happy with the half-step toward equality. “If I want to participate with my son, do I now have to start ringing up on the phone and calling around to different troops and saying, ’Do you guys discriminate, or am I a first-class citizen in your troop, and I can join?”
I predict that in the very near future, the Boy Scouts will realize how hurtful and counterproductive the religious exemption is, and they will finally advance to the level of their sister organization, the Girl Scouts, who fully embrace equality, including gay leaders and transgender youth.
Now that would be something to celebrate.