The US Scout movement is signalling its readiness to end a ban on gay members and leaders after a wave of protest.
approved by the Scouts’ national executive board, possibly as soon as
next week, the change would be another momentous milestone for America’s
gay-rights movement, following a surge of support for same-sex marriage
and the ending of the ban on gays serving opening in military.
pulse of equality is strong in America, and today it beats a bit faster
with news that the Boy Scouts may finally put an end to its long
history of discrimination,” said Chad Griffin of the Human Rights
Campaign, a major gay-rights group.
Under the proposed change the
different religious and civic groups that sponsor Scout units would be
able to decide for themselves how to address the issue - either
maintaining an exclusion of gays, as is now required of all units, or
opening up their membership.
Southern Baptist leaders – who
consider homosexuality a sin – were furious about the possible change
and said its approval might encourage churches to support other boys’
organizations instead. The Southern Baptists are among the largest
sponsors of Scout units, along with the Roman Catholic, Mormon and
United Methodist churches.
The BSA, which celebrated its 100th
anniversary in 2010, has long excluded both gays and atheists. Smith
said that a change in the policy toward atheists was not being
considered and that the BSA continued to view “Duty to God” as one of
its basic principles.
Protests over the no-gays policy gained
momentum in 2000, when the US Supreme Court upheld the BSA’s right to
exclude gays. Scout units lost sponsorships by public schools and other
entities that adhered to non-discrimination policies, and several local
Scout councils made public their displeasure with the policy.
recently, pressure surfaced on the Scouts’ own national executive
board. Two high-powered members – Ernst & Young chief executive
James Turley and AT&T boss Randall Stephenson – indicated they would
try to work from within to change the membership policy, which stood in
contrast to their own companies’ non-discrimination policies.
petition campaigns by Change.org, shipping giant UPS and
drug-manufacturer Merck announced that they were halting donations from
their charitable foundations to the Boy Scouts as long as the no-gays
policy was in force.
The Scouts had reaffirmed the no-gays policy
as recently as last year and appeared to have strong backing from the
conservative religious denominations that sponsor large numbers of Scout
units. Under the proposed change, they could continue excluding gays.