News Column

Santa Fe Man Says He Quit Scout Council Over Gay Ban

Jan 30, 2013

Tom Sharpe

A Santa Fe man resigned his seat on the executive board of the Great Southwest Council of the Boy Scouts of America last year in protest of the ban on gay Scouts and scoutmasters -- a ban national leaders are now reconsidering.

In his resignation letter, Peter Merrill said he was "bothered" in 2000 by the U.S. Supreme Court's decision that the Scouts could ban New Jersey Scoutmaster James Dale because he is gay, but he decided to stay on the board at that time.

Last year, however, after 17-year-old Ryan Anderson of Moraga, Calif., was denied his Eagle Scout rank because he admitted to his scoutmaster that he is gay, Merrill decided it was time to resign.

"If the Scout Oath must be followed, why are we not denying overweight, obese fat scouts from obtaining their Eagle Scout Award?" Merrill wrote. "The Oath states 'To keep myself Physically Strong.' "

Merrill's letter of Oct. 8, 2012, was sent to Chris Shelby, who has served for six years as the Scout executive of the Great Southwest Council, which covers 9,100 Boy Scouts plus 4,500 Scouting leaders throughout Northern New Mexico and parts of Colorado, Utah and Arizona.

On Monday, Shelby said he did not recall any local controversy over the gay ban in Scouting.

"I've never dealt with anyone who had a reaction on this issue," he said. "I'm sure there has been. You know, over the history of time, it has been somewhat controversial. We're always trying to serve our charter organizations to make sure we meet their needs."

On Tuesday, Shelby said he was aware of Merill's resignation, but he did not see the case as related to the gay ban.

"I really didn't think that was a controversy because Peter hadn't been involved with the board in quite some time," Shelby said. "He was on the board, but he wasn't active."

Shelby said he also was aware that 15-year-old Rayne Edelbrock became an Eagle Scout in Santa Fe on Jan. 13, partly based on his letter-writing campaign opposing the ban on homosexuals and atheists.

"I don't really look at it as stirrings on those issues," he said. "I don't view it that way. People have opinions about different things. We're getting opinions right now on both sides of the issue. ...

"We do encourage all our boys to practice good citizenship. So, a young man writing to his senators about a particular issue, that's a requirement of one of the merit badges."

Merrill, the owner of Construction Dispute Resolution Services, sees it differently. He noted that he was a district commissioner for eight years and was in charge of the district's Eagle Scout program before he joined the executive board. He said he became an Eagle Scout in 1963 and gave his award, a metal coin with the Scout Oath on one side and the Scout Law on the other, to Edelbrock at his bar mitzvah a year and a half ago.

"If for some reason, the Boy Scouts of America ever decides to change its opinions on the policies that I have discussed above," he said in his resignation letter, "it would be my honor to rejoin the BSA as it really grieves me to find it necessary to tender my resignation from the organization that has meant so much to me in the past."

Regarding the national move to drop the gay ban, Merrill said, "I'd like to think we [Rayne and himself] were instrumental."

Source: (c)2013 The Santa Fe New Mexican (Santa Fe, N.M.). Distributed by MCT Information Services.

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