After months of contentious debate, the Boy Scouts of America (BSA) seem poised to strike down their long-standing ban on openly gay scouts, although they will continue to prohibit gay adults from serving as leaders. The recommended change in policy, which would stipulate that “no youth may be denied membership in the Boy Scouts of America on the basis of sexual orientation or preference alone,” while “[maintaining] the current membership policy for all adult leaders,” must be approved by the Scouts’ National Council at a meeting in May.
The issue of how to deal with gay scouts and leaders has been contentious within the BSA for years, but the debate heated up last year after gay rights groups began to pressure the BSA to stop ejecting openly gay scouts and leaders. Conservative politicians and religious leaders urged the Boy Scouts to stay the course. The proposed change, however, follows a wave of growing support for acceptance of gay and lesbian people and relationships. In a recent PRRI survey, two-thirds (67%) of Americans report that gay and lesbian relationships should be accepted by society, including 85% of religiously unaffiliated Americans, 76% of Catholics, 68% of white mainline Protestants, and 57% of minority Christians. White evangelical Protestants are the only religious group in which a majority (53%) disagree that gay and lesbian relationships should be accepted by society, although a sizable minority (42%) agree.
Allowing openly gay scouts to participate in BSA activities is a significant step forward for the organization, although gay rights groups may not be satisfied as long as gay and lesbian adults are prohibited from serving in leadership roles. The BSA has also received some push-back from members of its own board, as well as organizations like the philanthropic arm of the shipping company UPS, which announced last summer that it would no longer donate money to the Boy Scouts because of its position on gay scouts and troop leaders. Meanwhile, the decision may lead to mounting pressure from religious groups like the Mormon Church and Roman Catholic Church, who sponsor a large share of scout troops in the country, to resist further policy changes.
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