Boy Scout Case: Latest Advance of 'Gay Rights' Movement

Successes have come mostly in the courtrooms, not at the ballot box

AUSTIN. Texas—The March 2 ruling by a New Jersey appeals court that the Boy Scouts of America's ban on homosexuals violates the state's anti-discrimination law was the latest victory for advocates of a growing “gay rights” movement that critics say is directly at odds with Catholic morality.

Catholic and Christian leaders decried the decision and the Boy Scouts vowed to appeal to the state's Supreme Court.

“We have to have empathy for those who struggle with sexual temptation, and not engage in any harsh words or stridency,” said Keith Fournier, executive director of the Washington-based Catholic Alliance. “What we are dealing with is an activist agenda. There's a certain fringe in the homosexual community that is seeking to change the law and give homosexual sex special treatment. This very latest decision is but one in a long string of cases.... The fact is, homosexual practice should not be given the same treatment in the law as immutable characteristics like race or gender.”

Regarding homosexuality, the Catechism of the Catholic Church says: “Basing itself on Sacred Scripture, which presents homosexual acts as acts of grave depravity, tradition has always declared that ‘homosexual acts are intrinsically disordered. ’ They are contrary to the natural law. They close the sexual act to the gift of life. They do not proceed from a genuine affective and sexual complementarity. Under no circumstances can they be approved” (2357).

The Catechism goes on to say, however, that homosexuals “must be accepted with respect, compassion, and sensitivity. Every sign of unjust discrimination in their regard should be avoided” (2358).

The past two years have seen numerous victories for homosexual activists, though sometimes those victories-such as the “coming out” of Ellen Degeneres's lead character on the recently cancelled ABC comedy Ellen—were more symbolic than substantive.

Many of the victories have had strong consequences, though. Ten states and many local governments currently have non-discrimination laws specifically aimed at homosexuals, covering things like public accommodations, housing, and employment. A similar federal bill—the Employment Non-Discrimination Act, or ENDA—failed by one vote in the Senate last year, though it was vigorously supported by President Clinton.

Gay rights advocates won their biggest legal victory in 1996 when the U.S. Supreme Court threw out a Colorado constitutional amendment that forbade laws protecting homosexuals from discrimination. The justices said the Colorado amendment denied homosexuals a political right enjoyed by everyone else—the chance to seek protection from discrimination.

In Hawaii, the state Supreme Court is preparing to rule on the legality of same-sex marriage. A similar battle is being waged in Alaska. In response to such initiatives, the Defense of Marriage Act was passed by Congress in 1996, stipulating that same-sex marriages are not recognized by the federal government. The law also allows individual states to do the same.

In New Jersey, late last year, a homosexual couple won a court battle to adopt a 2-year-old foster child they were raising. And six states have seen sodomy laws thrown out by the courts.

Steve Schwalm, senior analyst in cultural studies for the Family Research Council, a pro-life, pro-family advocacy agency in Washington, said the “gay rights” movement has been particularly successful in the courts but has “failed when it comes to the democratic process.”

In particular, he pointed to an anti discrimination law passed in Maine that was struck down by popular vote in a Feb. 10 referendum, as well as a similar situation in Washington state last year, in which voters, by a 20% margin, rejected a proposed bill.

By targeting the courts, Schwalm said, “You can pick your fights. You can take it to judges and circuits where you think you might have some success.”

William Donohue, president of the Catholic League for Religious and Civil Rights, has frequently found himself directly at odds with homosexual activists because of what the league sees as threats to the rights of Catholics who wish to live out their faith.

This is an attack on a private, voluntary organization, which is committed to traditional values and to a Judeo-Christian ethos.

“It's scurrilous to say that there's a ‘gay agenda’ any more than to say that there's a ‘straight agenda, ’” Donohue said. “I do believe that there's a radical gay agenda. There's a militant group within the gay population which may not accurately represent gay thought on a host of public policy issues.”

“Clearly they have as their goal a libertine understanding of sexuality. This will often run into conflict with Catholic teaching. The Catholic Church teaches the virtue of restraint. The libertine expression of this gay militant group preaches license. The main focus is this notion of sexual liberty, which holds no boundaries, where shame and guilt are considered to be throwbacks, where sexual expression is seen as a means and an end without any social context.”

Donohue said this mind set is manifested in popular homoerotic artwork as well as in periodicals as mainstream as The New York Times.

“One of the barometers of change in the culture is bookstores,” Donohue added. “A generation ago, if you walked into the largest bookstore, Barnes and Noble, there was no section for gay and lesbian studies. Now there is row after row. And there's even gay and lesbian bookstores. What it comes down to is the eroticization of society, and anything goes.”

Donohue sees the Boy Scouts case as somewhat different from other gay rights issues.

“To be fair, this transcends any gay agenda; this has to be understood differently,” he said. “This is an attack on a private, voluntary organization, which is committed to traditional values and to a Judeo-Christian ethos. This goes beyond a gay agenda; this is the [American Civil Liberty Union's] vision of liberty.”

The case was brought by James Dale, who was an eagle scout and assistant scoutmaster of a Matawan, N.J., troop. Dale was dismissed after he publicly announced his sexual orientation and became active in homosexual causes while a student at Rutgers University in New Brunswick, N.J.

A lower court had previously upheld the Boy Scouts' actions, but it was overturned on appeal.

“The Boy Scouts of America has taught traditional family values since its founding in 1910,” said Greg Shields, national spokesman for the Boy Scouts. “A person who engages in homosexual conduct is not a role model for those values. Accordingly, we don't offer leadership positions to avowed homosexuals.”

The case could potentially raise religious freedom issues in addition to questions of freedom of association because of the structure of the Scouts. The Scouts rely on what is known as chartering organizations that take the programs developed by the national organization and implement them in their local groups. More than 50% of the chartering organizations are Church groups, according to Shields. The Catholic Church is the third largest chartering organization.

At the end of 1997, the group had 355,000 youths involved in Catholic chartering organizations.

The Catholic Committee on Scouting, an arm of the National Conference of Catholic Bishops, has its national office at the Boy Scouts of America headquarters in Irving, Texas. In addition, every diocese in the country has approved a local committee.

“As Catholic parents we have to be clear that, particularly in a wonderful organization like the Boy Scouts, we should have every right to make sure that those leaders are not engaged in promiscuous homosexual lifestyles,” Fournier said.

Dennis Poust writes from Austin, Texas.