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Boy Scouts should end ban on gays now

Move expected this week is a start, though not enough

The Boy Scouts of America are expected this week to do what they should have done years ago – and what they could have done last summer: Lift their national policy banning gay members. Unfortunately, the group seems poised to go only part way in doing the right thing. If BSA leaders vote to change, officials say it will leave to it to “the religious, civic or educational organizations that oversee and deliver scouting to determine how to address this issue.”

“The Boy Scouts would not, under any circumstances, dictate a position to units, members or parents,” said BSA spokesman Deron Smith. “Under this proposed policy, the BSA would not require any chartered organization to act in ways inconsistent with that organization’s mission, principles or religious beliefs.”

The hodge-podge of conflicting local policies that could result would effectively keep bigotry as a Scout tenet.

It would also keep dishonesty as a tenet. That’s because there are already gay Boy Scouts. They remain closeted due to the ban. These Scouts have already proven to be just as trustworthy and of good character as their straight counterparts.

The BSA is right to respect religious beliefs. But standing against discriminatory practices and allowing gays to participate in scouting poses no actual conflict with such beliefs.

The Boy Scouts have only to consider the Girl Scouts, which also have spiritual and religious principles at their core, to see how this could be handled. For two decades, the Girl Scouts have had an inclusive policy that accepts all female applicants. It has said it “respects the values and beliefs of each of its members and does not intrude into personal matters. Therefore, there are no membership policies on sexual preference.”

The Boy Scouts could have adopted the same stand last July, after a two-year review of its ban. Instead officials announced they were affirming BSA policy of “not granting membership to open or avowed homosexuals.” But it was clear then that the matter wasn’t settled. Two members of the BSA national executive board said publicly they were against the policy. Those two – Ernst & Young Chief Executive James Turley and AT&T Chief Executive Randall Stephenson – are being credited with helping with the expected reversal on that stand this week.

Yet money might have been a bigger factor. The BSA has been bleeding donors over the past several months. Last year, UPS, United Way, Merck and Intel yanked funding over the Scouts’ anti-gay stance.

The Intel Foundation reportedly has been one of the Boy Scouts’ biggest donors. It was the single largest in 2009, donating nearly $700,000. It announced in September it would stop funding Scout troops that banned gays.

An online petition at Change.org seems also to have been a factor. The petition received more than 1.2 million signatures over the past year. Former Scouts – gay and straight – have spoken out too, with many returning their badges and renouncing their membership in protest.

Still, lifting the national ban on gay membership is an important step regardless of the prod. We hope groups sponsoring Scouts embrace the move.

The Boy Scouts do many wonderful things for the boys who join and thrive in the organization. The group has been an incubator for building men of good character who have been assets to communities nationwide. But the Boy Scouts can’t truly live up to their creed until they end discrimination in their ranks for good.

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