On Monday, the Boy Scouts of America announced a change to its adult leadership standards that could make the organization more inclusive: Local units can now select adult leaders without regard to sexual orientation. In other words, groups can choose for themselves whether or not they want to lift the ban on having homosexual leaders. The announcement came after the resolution was passed unanimously by the Executive Committee on Friday.
According to the organization's official statement, this policy change will still allow local units to make decisions for themselves. What's different is that they can now choose to select leaders without taking their sexual orientation into account. However, if a local unit wants to continue to ban homosexual leaders, the statement suggests that the unit would be able to do so — at least on the grounds of religious beliefs.
This change allows Scouting's members and parents to select local units, chartered to organizations with similar beliefs, that best meet the needs of their families. This change would also respect the right of religious chartered organizations to continue to choose adult leaders whose beliefs are consistent with their own.
It's certainly a step in the right direction, but how big of a step is it? We might not know for sure until local units begin to implement — or refuse to implement — the policy change. For now, it's the next step in a long battle for the Boy Scouts organization to include gay people.
When it comes to gay members, the Boy Scouts have long found themselves stuck between a rock and a hard place. In fact, it's a debate that's been around since at least the 1980s. In 1981, Timothy Curran, a former Boy Scout himself, sued the organization for discriminating against him after he openly identified himself as gay in a newspaper article. In 1998, the California Supreme Court ruled in favor of the Boy Scouts.
The Boy Scouts have likely been reluctant to welcome gay members into the fold because of the Christian principles that run through the organization. The Scout's Oath, which has been challenged before as well, requires scouts to pledge a "duty to God." Also important, the Mormon Church is a significant sponsor of the organization, which could explain why Monday's announcement included the caveat for allowing groups to decide based on their religious beliefs.
Still, it's always promising to see progress. In 2013, the Executive Committee voted to allow gay children to join the Boy Scouts. Monday's announcement referenced that decision, saying, "The 2013 youth membership policy will not be affected and remains unchanged."
This newest step to inclusivity is also a win for the organization's president, former Secretary of Defense Robert Gates. Gates referenced the membership standards directly in a speech at the Boy Scouts' annual meeting in Atlanta in May.
We must deal with the world as it is, not as we might wish it would be. The status quo in our movement's membership standards cannot be sustained. The country is changing, and we are increasingly at odds with the legal landscape at both the state and federal levels.
With the Supreme Court's landmark decision to legalize gay marriage in June, the Boy Scouts' traditional policies seemed even more at odds with the legal landscape and the status quo of the country. Ultimately, Friday's decision by the Executive Committee probably won't be strong enough to rule out all discrimination, but it's an exciting start for the millions of young boys and adult leaders involved.
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