The Boy Scouts of America is considering lifting its ban on allowing gay boy scouts and troop leaders. Officials announced Monday that local chapters would have the power to determine whether or not they would admit gay scouts.
The organization, founded in 1910, previously banned gay members because it violated the organization's principle to be "morally straight." The Supreme Court ruled in favor of the membership exclusion in 2000, determining that the First Amendment protected such a policy.
In 2010, the organization began a two year long examination of the policy to determine what was in the best interest of the organization. In July 2012, it ultimately decided to affirm the membership standards baring gay members, concluding that "this policy reflects the beliefs and perspectives of the BSA's members, thereby allowing Scouting to remain focused on its mission and the work it is doing to serve more youth."
Boy Scouts spokesman Deron Smith said in considering eliminating the ban on gay scouts, it would not dictate specific rules to members or parents, but that each unit would have discretion to create its own policy:
This would mean there would no longer be any national policy regarding sexual orientation, and the chartered organizations that oversee and deliver Scouting would accept membership and select leaders consistent with each organization's mission, principles, or religious beliefs.
The announcement Monday is a vast shift from the traditional organization's view on the topic, which some criticized as out of date. Opponents of the exclusion argued that the organization can no longer deny the rights of homosexuals in an increasingly diverse and accepting America. For example, the U.S. military lifted the ban on openly gay members serving in the military in 2011, and recent elections have seen victories for pro-gay marriage advocates across the country.
Several conservative family groups rejected the possible change, with Bryan Fischer of the American Family Association calling it "craven capitulation to social pressure." He said the organization is "putting the sexual integrity of the young boys that are entrusted to their care at risk."
Those seeking inclusion in scouting said the policy could be a step in the right direction, but individual scout troops would have the power to decide whether or not to admit gay members.
"[U]nder the policy change, it will still be possible for some units to discriminate," said Zach Wahls of Scouts for Equality. "The BSA should be commended for an important step forward. That being said, discrimination–whether it's at the national level or the local level–send a harmful message to all youth, gay or not, and has no place in Scouting."
The organization did not say when a formal announcement would be made, but it is expected to be discussed at next week's national executive board meeting.
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