Boy Scouts’ vote on gay members toughest challenge yet

Posted Wednesday, May. 22, 2013  comments  Print Reprints

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A news release for a new National Geographic Channel television series Are You Tougher than a Boy Scout? asked “Would you be able to reach into a bag of snakes, shimmy across a rope stretched over river rapids, canoe across a lake without a paddle and rescue an injured hiker?”

But arguably the Boy Scouts’ biggest challenge comes Thursday, when members of the Boy Scouts of America National Council will vote on ending discrimination against gay members.

The council, meeting in Grapevine, will consider a “membership standards resolution” that says, “No youth may be denied membership in the Boy Scouts of America on the basis of sexual orientation or preference alone.”

The resolution also reads: “While the BSA does not proactively inquire about sexual orientation of employees, volunteers, or members, we do not grant membership to individuals who are open or avowed homosexuals or who engage in behavior that would become a distration to the mission of the BSA.”

The proposal attempts to walk a tightrope: allowing gay youths to join but continuing to exclude openly gay adult leaders.

Advocates who wanted more sweeping change are dissatisfied; socially conservative groups and some churches oppose even the middle-ground approach.

As a private organization, BSA can determine its own membership; the Supreme Court has said so. Still, scouting has been pressed from within its ranks and without to shift with societal views — or, alternatively, stand firmly against the trend.

BSA spent three months surveying members, talking to donors and discussing the issue with partner organizations. The reactions were mixed and complicated.

For instance, in a survey sent to more than 1 million adult members, 61 percent of the 200,000 respondents favored existing policy, but younger parents and teens “tend to oppose the policy,” BSA said in a report.

The group has made clear that the proposed change wouldn’t condone inappropriate sexual activity by any scouts, regardless of orientation.

Almost 70 percent of Scout units are sponsored by faith-based groups, and some churches vociferously oppose any change. But the Mormon church — which sponsors the most Scout groups of any single denomination, serving more 400,000 youths — has announced support for the new language.

Thursday’s vote will be tough but necessary. BSA’s membership, good will, financial support and the organization’s future all are at stake.

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