News Column

Scouts to Decide About Gay Boys

May 23, 2013

Pat Reber, dpa

The Boy Scouts of America have wrestled more than a decade over whether they should accept openly gay members in their ranks.

The marathon debate is to culminate with a vote at a meeting of 1,400 local scout leaders Thursday in Grapevine, Texas, near Dallas.

Attitudes in US society toward homosexuality have changed drastically during the years that the Boy Scouts have struggled with the issue.

Gay marriage has gained acceptance in one state after another in just the last two years, and a landmark decision on lingering bans on same-sex marriage could be handed down by the US Supreme Court as early as June.

The Boy Scouts of America, an organization with 2.7 million members, has in its own way, echoed those rapid changes. Less than a year ago, the Boy Scout national board rejected the call for change and insisted on upholding the clause in its membership standards that forbids admission to "individuals who are open or avowed homosexuals."

Following loud protests over the decision, the board - with less than 80 members - reconsidered in February and agreed to open the decision to a broader group of 1,400 local council leaders.

They will represent the more than 106,000 chartered troops and other grass-roots units of Boy Scouts. In line with the group's oath of allegiance to God and country, the majority of the troops are sponsored by churches, synagogues and even mosques, though schools and other community institutions also commonly sponsor scouting groups.

On Thursday, the leaders will vote on whether to replace the gay ban with a new clause: "No youth may be denied membership in the Boy Scouts of America on the basis of sexual orientation or preference alone."

Under the resolution, the ban on homosexuality would continue for adult scout leaders. The ouster of a female scout leader in Ohio in April 2012 - boys' mothers are often the leaders, especially at younger ages - helped trigger the latest round of nationwide discussion.

The two sides in the debate have girded themselves with the full trappings of political campaigns.

Scouts for Equality collected 1.8 million signatures in favour of opening the ranks to boys who are openly gay, and used presidential-style data crunching and campaign tactics to pinpoint likely support among the 1,400 local leaders, according to Time magazine.

In April, they received support from an unlikely quarter - the Mormon Church, which sponsors the heftiest chunk of nationwide membership with 430,000 scouts. The Church of Jesus Christ of the Latter Day Saints, as the Mormon church is known, had opposed the change until then.

The nationwide discussion has even drawn in US President Barack Obama.

"My attitude is that gays and lesbians should have access and opportunity the same way everybody else does, in every institution and walk of life," he told broadcaster CBS in February.

If the change is adopted Thursday, the Boy Scouts stand to lose thousands of members, according to its own survey conducted earlier this year. It showed 61 per cent wanted to keep the current ban, and only 34 per cent favoured change.

Because many churches provide meeting places and sponsorship for the troops, they also are threatening to withdraw such support, including financial contributions.

In 2000, the US Supreme Court ruled that the organization could maintain its policy on sexual orientation.

The side opposing gays in scouting is led by the conservative stalwart Family Research Council, which aired a "Stand with Scouts Sunday" webcast this month aimed at churches to preserve scouting "as its founders envisioned it."

In the broadcast, Eagle Scout Theodore Anderson of Springfield, Virginia, describes the risk he sees in change: "On a camp-out, you're in a tent, and it's closed to the outside world, and me at 11 or 12 and having my buddy come on to me, I wouldn't have known what to do at that age, especially if it were an older scout who I looked up to."

The Boy Scouts of America includes boys from ages 7 to 21 years old. It was founded in 1910 as part of the international scouting movement founded by British Army officer Lord Baden-Powell.

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Source: Copyright 2013 dpa Deutsche Presse-Agentur GmbH

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