Boy Scouts delay decision on gay membership

The national organization that sets broad rules for the Boy Scouts of America says it needs more time to consider lifting an overall ban of gay scouts and scout leaders.

National BSA Headquarters

Bruce Andersen/Wikimedia Commons

In late January, the national group confirmed it was in serious talks about changing its controversial policy that excludes gays.

But on Wednesday, the Boy Scouts of America’s board said a decision wouldn’t be reached until May, at the earliest.

“In the past two weeks, Scouting has received an outpouring of feedback from the American public. It reinforces how deeply people care about Scouting and how passionate they are about the organization,” the group said in a statement.

“After careful consideration and extensive dialogue within the Scouting family, along with comments from those outside the organization, the volunteer officers of the Boy Scouts of America’s National Executive Board concluded that due to the complexity of this issue, the organization needs time for a more deliberate review of its membership policy.”

The decision that was under consideration would move any policy about including gays in the Scouts to a local level, and away from the national group.

The battle between the Scouts and groups who want the organization to include gays dates back to a historic Supreme Court decision in 2000.

In a 5-4 decision, the Supreme Court said in Boy Scouts v. Dale that the Scouts had a right to exclude a leader who openly stated he was gay.

“The forced inclusion of an unwanted person in a group infringes the group’s freedom of expressive association if the presence of that person affects in a significant way the group’s ability to advocate public or private viewpoints,” the court said in a majority opinion from Chief Justice William Rehnquist.

In a Constitution Check article for Constitution Daily last year, Lyle Denniston explained why that 2000 decision may not have been the final word in the situation.

“In court, the Scouts have argued that the decision in the Dale case 12 years ago provides First Amendment protection for the ban on homosexuals, both as to adult leaders and to youthful members, while challengers have contended that the decision dealt only with its specific facts–exclusion of an adult leader who was a public advocate of gay equality,” Denniston said.

One reason for the delay, says The New York Times, is that the decision would “create a huge new moment of risk, experimentation and change people on both sides of the issue said.”

“The proposed change created multiple fracture lines of its own. Some supporters of the ban said they feared a wave of departures by conservative church-sponsored troops, while supporters of the change said that scouting, with fewer boys every year donning the tan uniform to work for merit badges, would be revitalized.”

On a local level, many organizations are sponsored by churches, and some have objections to a proposed policy change by the national group.

But on a national level, some sponsors have been critical of the ban.

A new Quinnipiac poll shows a similar divide on the issue. Overall, 55 percent of those polled favored ending the national ban. But among white evangelical Protestants, 56 percent opposed ending it.

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