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Boy Scouts should drop ban on gay members, leaders

The Boy Scouts’ solution to the issue of allowing members and leaders who are gay attempts to be Solomonic in its approach, but winds up as merely incoherent, as one critic put it.

The organization is proposing to lift its ban on gay Scouts but retain the prohibition on gay Scout leaders. Thus, a gay teenager can progress to the level of Eagle Scout, live up to the ideals of Scouting, identify himself as a role model for younger Scouts – and be prohibited from ever being a Scout leader.

One can feel some sympathy with Scout executives who have been placed in a no-win situation: threatened with the loss of financial support if they continue to exclude gays and also if they open their doors to them. But not too much sympathy; while they are hardly alone, they are in a box of their own making, built of a prejudice that has only recently come crumbling down.

The organization has had a difficult time with this question. It stood firm against allowing any gay members into Scouting for decades, even winning a Supreme Court ruling that affirmed its right to discriminate.

That changed earlier this year, when the Boy Scouts began to feel financial pressure from supporters who threatened to withdraw their backing unless the Scouts dropped opposition to allowing gays into its ranks. The organization announced a plan to change the rule, but quickly withdrew it when the other side began to howl.

Instead, in February, the Scouts began a review of the policy, listening to adult members, parents, alumni, teens, donors, religious partners and Scout leaders. The result was the half-step toward sanity, proposing to allow gay Scouts but closing the door to adult leaders who are “open or avowed homosexuals or who engage in behavior that would become a distraction to the mission of the BSA.”

The proposed new policy needs to be approved by the organization’s national council members at a meeting in late May.

It would be unfair not to acknowledge that this is a step in the right direction, even if it is like having each foot in a different boat. Sometimes, change comes slowly and this would be a notable change.

Still, the Scouts’ own consultations with experts revealed no evidence that gays are any likelier to abuse children than heterosexuals. Executives also learned, if they didn’t already know it, that no evidence suggests that homosexual adults have a negative influence on children. There is no reason a gay man cannot be a positive role model for youths and, indeed, many have been.

It is worth noting that the Girl Scouts have no similar ban and have managed to operate without commotion. The Boy Scouts should be able to do that, fully and completely. But prejudice dies hard, especially when money is involved.