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Boy Scouts should take Gates’ advice and drop outdated ban on gay leaders

However the Supreme Court rules next month on the matter of same-sex marriage, the fact is that the die is already cast. In numbers that seem to multiply exponentially, Americans are coming to understand that homosexuality is about as controversial as oatmeal. The trend is irreversible and for evidence, consider the latest from the Boy Scouts of America.

Robert Gates is not just the president of the Boy Scouts of America. He is a former director of the CIA and a former secretary of defense. He is Republican. And last week he said that his storied organization’s ban on gay leaders “cannot be sustained.” He urged the Scouts to end the national prohibition and leave the matter to local Scout groups.

It’s a huge step because, among some Scout constituencies – in particular some of the churches that sponsor troops – this matter does remain controversial. But the rapidly evolving comprehension of human sexuality has left the Scouts in an untenable situation. If the organization continues to treat gay adults like pariahs, it will lose other critical supports and could eventually collapse.

“I truly fear that any other alternative will be the end of us as a national movement,” Gates said at the Scouts’ annual national meeting. That’s the choice, as the organization’s highly credible president sees it: Grow or die.

This moment could have been foreseen two years ago when, under similar pressure, the Scouts ended the ban on gay youth members, but kept it for adults. The reason for the half-step was as wrong-headed as it was predictable: Some people still associate homosexuality with pedophilia. Yet it has been shown that gay adults are no more likely to abuse children than are heterosexual adults. In the end, it’s just another prejudice – literally, a prejudgment, made without the facts.

Sadly, that prejudice – along with the one that equates homosexuality with immorality – is likely to inform some of the response to Gates’ important declaration. But he is right on the facts and right on the ethics. What is more, Scouting is about teaching boys to do the right thing and the Scout Law, itself, requires its members to be brave.

Gates was that last week. It’s time for the rest of the organization to follow suit.