On Wednesday, February 6, 2013, after closed-door deliberations, the National Executive Board of the Boy Scouts of America announced it would delay the decision on whether to allow gay members and adult leaders until its next meeting in May. No vote was taken on changing the policy. Was this because those in favor of the change didn't have a majority or was it to give the opponents time to rally their forces? Some reports indicate that in May, the 1400 member national council will bypass the National Executive Board to decide whether to change the policy. I join others that submit the Board has abrogated its responsibilities to set national policy and failed in leadership by passing the buck to this larger council. Is this an example of courage to make the difficult decisions that befits the young men they are leading?
Equality or Discrimination?
Those who oppose equality make a number of arguments, some which are completely disingenuous and others that warrant consideration. Those, which can be dismissed out of hand, are two-fold.
First, it is clear from overwhelming scientific evidence that although some sexual predators, or pedophiles are gay, the vast majority are straight. Male pedophiles, whose victims are boys, are not by definition gay they are mentally ill. Proper intake and screening can prevent these men from becoming adult leaders.
Next, opponents equate sexual orientation with conduct. They believe that gays are unable to control themselves when placed in a close environment with other males. This flies in the face of cultural reality. Gay men and boys have been in close contact with their straight brothers forever. From gym showers to foxholes, over and over again, it is shown that physical proximity does not necessarily lead to attraction and intimacy. In rare cases where it does, those who fail to follow the rules and resort to impermissible conduct could and should be dismissed, and if warranted by the facts, criminally prosecuted.
Parents, not adult Scout leaders, should teach sex education to their boys. Adult Scout leaders are neither trained nor qualified to address issues of sexuality. That is the long-standing and present policy on sexuality of the Boy Scout of America and allowing gay scouts and leaders would not mandate any change in that position.
Does having a national policy of nondiscrimination infringe upon the religious liberty of faith groups that sponsor most of the Boy Scout troops in the country? The opinions on changing the policy vary from faith group to faith group. Mormons and Southern Baptists strongly oppose any change and the Methodists ask the Boy Scouts to not change the policy in May, but give them more time to consider the implication. Catholics remain uncommitted. Affirming faith groups, such as the Episcopal Church, United Church of Christ and Reformed Judaism have long called for allowing gay scouts and leaders. So isn't the religious freedom of these faith groups in favor of nondiscrimination being challenged under the present "Don't' Ask, Don't Tell" policy? They clearly are. I would submit that the trial balloon, allowing individual troops to decide if they want to discriminate, would at least, solve this dilemma. But is this the right thing to do?
The Boy Scouts have the Answer
The answer to this question can be found in the Boy Scout Handbook itself. All Scouts take an oath to be morally straight, meaning:
To be a person of strong character, your relationships with others should be honest and open. You should respect and defend the rights of all people. Be clean in your speech and actions, and remain faithful in your religious beliefs. The values you practice as a Scout will help you shape a life of virtue and self-reliance.
Like the military, the Boy Scouts demand integrity and honesty above all. If they choose, scouts and their leaders should not have to hide who they are and be forced to live a lie. The oath requires all scouts to respect the dignity of their fellow scouts. What rights are to be respected and defended if it is not the right of nondiscrimination? And yes, scouts can still remain faithful to their religious beliefs without practicing discrimination.
The path ahead is clear, and it is likely the choice made will determine if the Boy Scouts of America continues to be a relevant organization in the 21st century. The Scouts can cling to the past and continue to embrace its "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" discriminatory policy of exclusion. It can take a half-step, much like it handled the issue of racial integration, allowing local troops to discriminate if they choose. But to be faithful to their oath, the Scouts should follow the example of the U.S. military of open and honest service, as well as return to the vision of its founder, William D. Boyce, where Scouting would "be open to all boys" without exception. This is the right thing to do, and now is the right time to do it.