As secretary of defense, Robert Gates oversaw the military’s transition from the discriminatory policy of “don’t ask, don’t tell” regarding the treatment of gay Americans in the armed forces.
Now, as president of the Irving-based Boy Scouts of America, Gates stands ready to usher the 115-year-old organization into a new era of accepting openly gay scout leaders.
At the group’s annual national meeting in Atlanta last week, the former secretary and Texas A&M president prescribed a dose of reality for its members, warning that if they didn’t change voluntarily the courts would likely force them to do so.
Noting the public’s growing acceptance of individuals who are gay, Gates said that “we must deal with the world as it is, not as we might wish it to be.”
The Scouts, which for more than a century barred homosexuals from being members and leaders in the organization, voted in 2013 to allow gay Scouts. That vote, with 60 percent approval, came after a national outcry against the group’s policy and after the BSA began to lose donors and members.
Under the threat that any court-ordered change likely would be more harmful than a self-imposed one, Gates said “we could end up with a broad ruling that could forbid any kind of membership standard,” suggesting that such an order could affect the Scouts’ emphasis on God and its particular service to young males.
He did point out that local sponsoring organizations, 70 percent of which are faith-based, must be allowed to set their own standards for their Scout leaders. Many conservative religious leaders have strongly objected to the change of policy admitting gay members and the notion of accepting gay leaders.
Some local councils have complained about what they see as a discriminatory policy, and at least one New York group has defied the ban on gay leaders and hired an openly gay 18-year-old as a camp counselor, The New York Times reported.
Gates, who has been president of the BSA for only a year, has always been a take-charge guy who has long exhibited strong leadership skills. If anyone can get the Scouts to move voluntarily, it is he.
The question will be how the group decides to move forward — whether to call for another vote, for example — and how much backlash may come as a result.
Whatever it decides, no doubt the Scouts still will be able to fulfill the tenets of their oath that calls for: duty to God and country, duty to other people and duty to self.