The Boy Scouts of America (BSA) has ended the organization's long-standing ban on openly homosexual adult scout leaders, following decades of intense pressure from LGBT activists.
The amendment, voted on Monday by the National Executive Board and which passed with 45 in favor and 12 opposed, forbids "discrimination" against homosexuals among its paid workers or at BSA-owned facilities. It was proposed with the hope of ending what BSA president and former defense secretary Robert Gates calls an "issue that has divided and distracted us" for too long. Gates noted that the impending storm of lawsuits from gay adults who were forbidden from joining also played a role in bringing the matter to a vote.
But according to Richard Ellisit, a political science professor at Willamette University, it appears as though the ruling was too little too late. "You've got a highly divided organization. ... Now it's not clear that even this solution, which is an attempt to get the [gay rights] issue out of the way, can do it, because nobody is happy with it."
The BSA did re-affirm that the ruling, which follows in the footsteps of the controversial 2013 reform of the Scout's membership policy allowing openly gay youth to join, would not apply to religious-based troops, and that they were free to continue hiring based on their professed religious beliefs.
But homosexual activists have already announced they intend to change that. "Our position has been and remains clear," says Human Rights Campaign spokeswoman Liz Halloran. "We continue to urge the Boy Scouts of America to embrace full LGBT inclusion, without exception."
Josh Schiller, an attorney representing a lesbian who lost her job at a Scout center after coming out, believes this decision is "the beginning of building inclusive programs. ... It's halfway where we want to be."
President of the Human Rights Campaign Chad Griffin made it clear he was pleased with the ruling, "but including an exemption for troops sponsored by religious organizations undermines and diminishes the historic nature of today's decision. ... Discrimination should have no place in the Boy Scouts, period."
The outcry toward the unilateral decision was immediate, with the Mormon Church announcing it is "deeply troubled by today's vote," and claiming "the admission of openly gay leaders is inconsistent with the doctrines of the Church and what have traditionally been the values of the Boy Scouts of America." Officials of the Church, which at nearly 38,000 has by far the largest number of troops, hinted that they may leave altogether, alluding to the possibility of forming their own organization as a replacement for the Boy Scouts.
Of the more than 100,000 troops in the United States, around 72 percent are run by religious groups, which includes 8,131 Catholic units. The National Catholic Committee response to the concession indicated a desire to maintain relations with the BSA, but also expressed apprehension toward allowing anyone who engages in sexual conduct outside of a heterosexual marriage to join.
Boy Scouts of America v. Dale, a Supreme Court case decided in 2000, affirmed that the organization is permitted to exclude a person from membership if that individual "affects in a significant way the group's ability to advocate public or private viewpoints."
Despite the controversy, the BSA, founded in the United States in 1910, continues to profess the well-known Scout's Oath, in which members pledge, among other things, to keep themselves "physically strong, mentally awake and morally straight."
A statement released by the BSA Monday reads: "Moving forward, we will continue to focus on reaching and serving youth, helping them to grow into good, strong citizens."