Two cheers for the Boy Scouts of America, whose leaders last week voted to end discrimination against gay boys.
We hope someday — sooner rather than later — to offer a third cheer when the organization ends discrimination altogether and allows homosexual adults to serve as leaders.
Still, Thursday’s resolution, approved by an impressive 61 percent of the 1,400 members of Boy Scouts National Council who met outside Dallas, was noteworthy, even historic. Its rhetoric was simple, direct, and under the circumstances, profound: “No youth may be denied membership in the Boy Scouts of America on the basis of sexual orientation or preference alone.”
The organization didn’t have to make the change, at least not for legal reasons. Its right as a private organization to limit membership however it deemed appropriate was upheld in 2000 by the U.S. Supreme Court. But the Boy Scouts, who not long ago supported retaining the ban on gay scouts, recognized that American society — led by young citizens — was becoming increasingly accepting of gays and increasingly intolerant of discrimination against them. Not surprisingly, more scouts supported ending the ban than their parents or adult leaders.
Whether membership in the Boy Scouts, a justifiably proud 103-year-old organization, grows or shrinks as a result of this action remains to be seen. Becoming more inclusive and welcoming ought to boost membership, but that’s far from certain. More than two-thirds of Scout troops and packs are sponsored by religious organizations, and some openly disdain homosexuality.
The Mormon Church, to its credit, said the decision won’t affect its support of the Boy Scouts; as it happens, the Mormons are the largest single sponsor of Scout troops. The Catholic Church has promised to study the issue, but support among some Baptist congregations is shaky. Richard Land, chief ethicist for the Southern Baptist Convention, predicted “a mass exodus of Southern Baptists” from Scouting in an interview with the Baptist Press.
Though we believe that would be unfortunate, it is their prerogative, as is establishing organizations similar to the Boys Scouts but with more religious underpinnings.
Yet even if this action does reduce membership in the Boy Scouts, it stands to strengthen the organization. The Boy Scouts for generations has taught boys life skills, offered them adventures and helped transform them into capable, honorable, young men. The acceptance of gays will only enhance that.