The Boy Scouts' move to lift the ban on gay Scout leaders could be a step back for LGBT rights

This image was removed due to legal reasons.

On Thursday, Boy Scouts of America (BSA) President Robert P. Gates begrudgingly advocated opening the door to gay Scout leaders.


In his address during the Scout’s National Annual Meeting, Gates said: “We must deal with the world as it is, not as we might wish it to be. The status quo in our movement’s membership standards cannot be sustained.” Not a ringing endorsement of equality, but a move in the right direction nonetheless—or is it?

Reuters reports that Zach Wahls, the executive director of Scouts for Equality, is pleased with Gates's speech. "We are 180 degrees from where we were a year ago… this is a very, very positive development," he said.

But in his statement, Gates presented his position as a defensive tactic: “… if we wait for the courts to act, we could end up with a broad ruling that could forbid any kind of membership standard.” In other words, if the BSA doesn’t lift the ban themselves, the courts might, with their own standards. And, he says, “waiting for the courts is a gamble with huge stakes.”

By addressing the issue internally, now, says Gates, BSA will be able to allow individual charters to make their own membership rules. He said that by opting to lift the blanket ban themselves,  “[we can] set our own course and change our policy in order to allow charter partners—unit sponsoring organizations—to determine the standards for their Scout leaders. Such an approach would allow all churches, which sponsor some 70 percent of our Scout units, to establish leadership standards consistent with their faith.”

The BSA website notes that more than 100,000 Scouting units are affiliated with chartered organizations, and that 71.5 percent of those are chartered to faith groups. This chart, also from the BSA website, breaks down the numbers as of late 2013.

This image was removed due to legal reasons.

The top three churches that own and operate BSA units are The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints, the United Methodist Church, and the Catholic Church—all of which have, at best, ambiguous attitudes towards homosexuality.

Back in January, the Associated Press reported that the Mormon church was moving towards a more open-minded approach to gay rights—but still leaving the door open to discrimination. LDS Church elder Jeffrey R. Holland said at the time that “we must find ways to show respect for others whose beliefs and behaviors differ from ours while never being forced to deny or abandon our own beliefs, values, and behaviors in the process.” Basically, it’s complicated.


The Methodist Church doesn’t allow “self-avowed practicing homosexuals” to serve in the church and the Catholic Church, of course, is also struggling with its stance on same-sex love.

For what it’s worth, the Girl Scouts’ position is clear: All are welcome.

Danielle Wiener-Bronner is a news reporter.