Editorial: A merit test for the Boy Scouts of America

The Observer editorial board

The Boy Scouts is ending its ban on gay den leaders, scoutmasters and camp counselors.
The Boy Scouts is ending its ban on gay den leaders, scoutmasters and camp counselors. AP

The Boy Scouts of America took action late Monday to end a ban on openly gay den leaders, scoutmasters and camp counselors.

The Scouts’ national executive board approved the change with about 79 percent of its voters expressing support. The move was unanimously approved by the Scouts’ executive committee in mid-July.

Given the groundswell of national support for gay rights, Scouts President Robert Gates, the nation’s former defense secretary, rightly declared in May that the group’s longstanding ban on gays in leadership positions was “an unsustainable position.”

He might well have been speaking to all of America’s conservative Christians, not just Boy Scouts supporters, when he added: “We must deal with the world as it is, not as we might wish it to be.”

As they move forward with their policy changes, the Boy Scouts will be taking a significant step in the right direction.

In a concession to churches, however, the group still plans to let church-based units choose adult leaders whose beliefs are consistent with their own. That doesn’t sit well with some gay rights advocates. Dashanne Stokes, an Eagle Scout and gay rights activist, wrote in The Advocate that the new policy is a PR-savvy half-measure. It does represent progress for gays, he said, but it lets local Scout groups keep discriminating while letting the national office off the hook legally.

“The new policy lets them have it both ways,” he wrote. “It’s a step forward for liberals and those of us who seek change but stops short of creating the kind of real change that would further alienate the BSA’s conservative core.”

Conservatives aren’t happy either. John Stemberger, a leader of the faith-based Trail Life USA youth program, told the Reuters news agency that the new policy will make it “even more challenging for a church to integrate a (Boy Scouts) unit” as part of its offerings.

The new policy isn’t perfect, but it is a compromise that allows opposing viewpoints to coexist beneath the same tent. That’s no small feat, given the deeply divergent, passionately held views on both sides of this debate.

Noted lawyer David Boies, who has threatened to sue the Boy Scouts over the gay leadership ban, told the New York Times he sees the Scouts’ latest policy change as “a way station on the road to full equality.”

Given the rising tide of support for gay rights and the recent Supreme Court ruling allowing all gays to marry, he’s likely right about that.

The Scouts’ organization made its name teaching wholesome life lessons and helping mold boys into model citizens. This situation offers an opportunity to show them what it means to live in peace – even when not in complete harmony – with one’s neighbors.