When they take the Scout Oath, boys pledge to be "morally straight." But as they figure out how finally to remove their ban on openly gay Scouts, the Boy Scouts of America’s national leaders have become morally incoherent.
Last week the organization’s executive committee proposed changing the membership rules to allow openly gay youth — but not openly gay adults who would be Scout leaders — to participate. The committee is in a tough spot, attempting to find a compromise policy on a polarizing issue without rending a community that does a great deal of good. Some Scouting sponsors still maintain a deep religious conviction that homosexuality is immoral; many others, who accept that gay boys don’t choose to be gay, are eager to end the discrimination.
But this is a bad way to deal with that challenging reality.
The executive committee earlier considered leaving the question up to individual troop sponsors. There was at least an argument for that as a pragmatic intermediate step. Openly gay boys and adults could participate in enlightened troops; those who object would still have troops that continued to discriminate available to them. The proposal was silent on the evils of discrimination.
The latest plan is worse than silent. Excluding openly gay adults suggests that they are dangerous, potential child abusers or brainwashers of such threat that they should be denied any place in the Boy Scouts of America.
The logic is perverse: It’s OK for gay teens to learn, grow and serve in the fellowship of Scouting without lying about who they are - but only until they’re 18, after which they become a menace. If the idea is that the organization does not want to hold openly gay men up as role models, National Review’s Ed Whelan points out that the proposal hardly serves that end. Seventeen-year-old Scouts can serve — indeed, are encouraged to serve — as senior patrol leaders and troop guides and in other positions of authority.
If the committee fears that gay Scout leaders will prey on boys, its proposal is ignorant. Predators can be found among gays and among heterosexuals. Any organization of children needs sound policies to guard against abuse. The Boy Scouts boast that their policies to prevent and detect child abuse are "among the best in the youth-serving community." That, not discrimination, is the best safeguard.
One explanation for the Boy Scouts’ bizarre proposal is that it corresponds with the results of a survey the organization recently conducted of its members. Boys favoured lifting the ban on openly gay scouts; adult Scout leaders did not. That might reflect the views of the sponsoring organizations behind many troops. Yet it’s only a matter of time before the new generation fulfills the Boy Scouts’ commitment to nondiscrimination. The leaders will look better to history if they don’t wait for that new generation to do the right thing.