GRAPEVINE, Texas — In a policy shift for the Boy Scouts of America, openly homosexual youth will no longer be barred from scouting.
The 1,400-member national council voted May 23 to add the following line to the requirements for being a scout: "No youth may be denied membership in the Boy Scouts of America on the basis of sexual orientation or preference alone."
The resolution passed with 61.5% voting in favor of the change and 38.5% opposed. It goes into effect Jan. 1, 2014, and is binding on all councils and units.
In a May 23 statement, the organization said: "The Boy Scouts of America will not sacrifice its mission or the youth served by the movement by allowing the organization to be consumed by a single, divisive and unresolved societal issue. As the National Executive Committee just completed a lengthy review process, there are no plans for further review on this matter. While people have different opinions about this policy, we can all agree that kids are better off when they are in scouting."
Bishop Robert Guglielmone, the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops’ episcopal liaison for the National Catholic Committee on Scouting (NCCS), attended the meeting and wasn’t surprised by the result of the vote.
"I kind of expected that this is the way the vote would go," Bishop Guglielmone told the Register. "I’m not particularly encouraged by it, but I knew it would happen eventually. As the policy change is right now promoted, we can live with it. Unfortunately, there are many people who are interpreting this policy to go much further than it actually does, particularly in the secular press."
The change follows a contentious period of lobbying by homosexual-rights groups hoping to roll back the ban on both homosexual scouts and adult leaders. The compromise is being seen by homosexual-rights activists as merely a "first step" to their ultimate goal of openly homosexual Boy Scout leaders.
The BSA was planning to lift the national ban on openly homosexual scouts and adult leaders in February of this year. Intense pressure caused them to postpone the decision until the national council could "further engage representatives of scouting’s membership and listen to their perspectives and concerns."
The solution being proposed then was to leave the decision on admitting open homosexuals to the local level, with each chartering organization deciding on its policy. This would have eliminated the national ban while allowing religious groups to establish their own standards for admission based on their values.
That policy change, if enacted, would have created a patchwork of rules set by chartering organizations, leading to units in the same council — and even the same town — all having different policies.
It was not a popular compromise for either religious groups or homosexual-rights lobbyists. In response, the BSA leadership did further research and spoke to their members.
In April, they proposed lifting the ban on openly homosexual scouts under the age of 17, while retaining it on adult leaders. This means that, after a scout turns 18, he is no longer able to participate in the organization. (Scouts age 17 and under, however, also act as leaders for children as young as 10 1/2 years old.)
This new compromise was brought before the 2013 National Annual Meeting that ran May 22-24 in Grapevine, Texas. The "Membership Standards Resolution" states, in regard to adult leaders, "While the BSA does not proactively inquire about sexual orientation of employees, volunteers or members, we do not grant membership to individuals who are open or avowed homosexuals or who engage in behavior that would become a distraction to the mission of the BSA."
This is consistent with standing BSA guidelines.
The revision comes with an addition to the membership standards for scouts. It reiterates the standard requirements that a scout abide by the "Scout Oath and Law," observe his duty to God and demonstrate behavior consistent with the values of scouting, before adding the concluding statement: "No youth may be denied membership in the Boy Scouts of America on the basis of sexual orientation or preference alone."
Scout Values Acknowledged
However, this statement is preceded by acknowledgment of scout values, which say, "Scouting is a youth program, and any sexual conduct, whether homosexual or heterosexual, by youth of scouting age is contrary to the virtues of scouting."
BSA’s president, Wayne Perry, urged members to vote "Yes" on the change, writing in an editorial for USA Today that the "proposed resolution reaffirms our core belief in doing one’s ‘duty to God.’ It would remove the restriction denying membership to youth on the basis of sexual orientation alone and would maintain the current membership policy for all adult leaders."
The bishops’ conference defers to the National Catholic Committee on Scouting for decisions and policies related to the Church and the BSA. The NCCS does not appear to have opposed the policy change, and its statement regarding the policy change was devoid of any criticism or expression of disappointment.
After reiterating the Catholic position on the immorality of homosexual acts and the dignity of individuals who struggle with same-sex attraction, the statement commented, "Since the change in policy will not take effect until Jan. 1, 2014, the National Catholic Committee on Scouting has adequate time to study its effects. The NCCS will determine how it may impact Catholic-chartered scout units and activities. In doing so, we will work within the teachings of our Catholic faith and with the various local bishops and their diocesan scouting committees."
Under the old policy, scouts did not actively seek to identify the sexual preferences of minors because sexual relations are already against the scout code. Their approach was a kind of "Don’t ask, don’t tell." A scout was only barred from the organization if he publicly identified himself as a homosexual.
Perry acknowledged that this policy change will not satisfy the homosexual-rights lobby, pointing out that, "while some people wish the proposed resolution would go further, it was clear from our listening phase that changing adult standards would have conflicted with the majority of our partners, 70% of which are religious organizations, and would have disrupted our ability to deliver scouting."
Indeed, homosexual-rights activists were quick to say this was only the beginning for them.
James Dale, a dismissed scout leader who was the subject of the landmark Supreme Court decision Boy Scouts of America et al. v. Dale, calls the policy "a step backward" and thinks it "actually makes things worse. … It sends a very convoluted, mixed message to gay kids. It says that being gay is a youthful indiscretion and that there’s no future for you."
Jennifer Tyrell, who was removed from her leadership position for being a lesbian, told ABC News: "Once the ban is lifted on youth, they will see their fears are unfounded. There are going to be [gay] boys who want to continue as leaders. It’s just a matter of time."
Among the 70% of the 100,000 scout units in America chartered to religious organizations, Catholic churches account for 8,570 of them, placing them third, after the Mormons (37,882) and Methodists (11,078).
The Mormons were the largest body resisting a complete policy change, but backed the final compromise, saying that "sexual orientation has not previously been — and is not now — a disqualifying factor for boys who want to join Latter-Day Saint scout troops. Willingness to abide by standards of behavior continues to be our compelling interest."
Bishop Guglielmone believes that the revision is acceptable to Catholics because, in accord with Church teaching, it makes a distinction between same-sex attraction and same-sex actions.
"Church teaching is very clear that the homosexual inclination is not sinful and that same-sex attraction is not immoral," he says, "but that what we’re dealing with here is the distinction between the inclination and the conduct. The standards remain the same as they always have for scouts. Homosexual activity will not be condoned."
During the meeting, the BSA leadership lobbied the voting members to agree to the new rules. At the same time, they prevented opponents, such as John Stemberger of On My Honor, from distributing literature opposing the change.
Catholics are responding in different ways.
Joseph Jablonski, an undergraduate philosophy major at The Catholic University of America, who blogs at Ethika Politika, observes that the resolution’s separation of action and inclination is more in keeping with the Catholic approach to same-sex attraction than it is with the homosexual agenda.
"The active gay sexual lifestyle does not exist in the Boy Scouts of America, even as they refuse to bar members due to sexual orientation," said Jablonski, who is an Eagle Scout. "Youths who call themselves ‘gay’ or ‘lesbian’ are not defined, for the rest of their lives, as gays or lesbians, but have the opportunity to grow in their moral characters."
In contrast, Matthew Lang, an 18-year-old Eagle Scout, told the Register he is "deeply disappointed by this change. When the Canadian scouts made a similar change, they lost 50% of their membership over the next five years, and a similar result can be expected for the BSA. This action compromises the BSA’s moral integrity and proves that with enough outside pressure the BSA is willing to say anything is ‘morally straight.’ Sadly, because of this change, me, my family and many of my scouting friends are considering how we will respond and if we will stay involved. We are not making any snap decisions and still want to use the benefits still present in scouting, but we have to consider if we would be compromising our morality by remaining involved."
Taylor Marshall, chancellor of the College of Saints John Fisher & Thomas More, is calling for Catholics to abandon the scouts and help him form The Scouts of Saint George to return to "the old tradition" begun by scouting’s founder, Lord Robert Baden-Powell, by focusing on "mentorship, camping, woodworking, backpacking, sports and, most important of all, virtue and the art of being a man."
Meanwhile, the Knights of Columbus runs the Columbian Squires, a fraternity for youth age 11-18, with 25,000 members in more than 1,500 circles worldwide.
Bishop Guglielmone, who served as the Holy See’s world chaplain to Catholic scouting for two four-year terms (2000-2008), believes Catholic flight would be a mistake.
"My concern is that we have well over half a million young people in the program," he said, "and most of those kids are going to stay no matter what happens. We have a real obligation to stay in dialogue and to stay connected to the program."
Added the bishop, "The leadership of the BSA has made it very clear that they intend to hold the line on adult leaders, but they also said they would hold the line on this issue, so where this could go, I don’t know. That’s why I feel it’s imperative for the Church to continue to be involved. And if it gets to the point where some of our basic issues are threatened — such as being able to pick leaders for Catholic-chartered groups or in diminishing the role of religion and God — then we will have to re-evaluate our participation in the program at that time."
Thomas L. McDonald blogs about God and religion at
God and the Machine.