Daily Hampshire Gazette - Established 1786
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Editorial: Scouting's halfway step

Last week leaders of the Boy Scouts of America took a positive yet timid step forward by announcing the organization is reconsidering its ban on homosexuals. A decision could be reached at the group’s national executive board meeting next week.

It was just last summer that the Boy Scouts reaffirmed its commitment to the discriminatory ban. And while the organization has offered no explanation as to why it is rethinking the position, some people point to the outpouring of support for the gay community after last year’s action as the impetus for this soul-searching.

Should the Boy Scouts change its stance, it would mean the club has no policy on homosexuality and that individual troop sponsors would dictate whether to shun people who are attracted to members of the same sex.

If this no-policy policy is adopted, it would be a step in the right direction for the Boy Scouts, just as the “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” policy was, at one time, a step toward allowing homosexuals to serve in the military. We encourage the Boy Scouts to take this step, but the organization’s embrace of civil rights is not complete. Anything short of full inclusion of all people, regardless of their sexual orientation, is not enough.

In 2000, courts upheld the group’s right to exclude gay people from participating as leaders or members. That left the Boy Scouts with a legal standing, but not a moral one. An organization that has its members pledge to be “morally straight,” a condition described on the Scouts’ website, in part, as being “a person (who) ... should respect and defend the rights of all people” should not put discrimination on a par with tolerance.

Chris Carpenter, Cubmaster of Cub Scout Pack 104 in Hatfield, said it well when he told a Gazette reporter this week that the national group’s step doesn’t go far enough: “It’s saying that it’s OK to discriminate, if everyone says it’s OK to discriminate.” Carpenter is an example of how the national organization’s ban is not accepted by all of the club’s members, many of whom have stated they will not enforce it.

We commend those who have been pressuring the Boy Scouts to end the ban: the current and former Scouts and leaders who wrote to the governing board asking it to reconsider; the companies — most noticeably Merck & Co. and UPS — that withdrew support; and Eagle Scouts who returned their badges in protest. These people, along with many others advocating on behalf of the LGBT community, are making a difference and we hope they have the strength to keep up the fight. It is far from over.

Of the more than 110,000 Scout troops in the U.S., almost 70 percent are chartered by religious organizations, some of which were pleased by the proposed change, while others were troubled, according to the Associated Press. There are some powerful, religious leaders who support the Scouts’ current ban and think ending it will lead to chaos. Consider this statement from Frank Page, president of the Southern Baptist Convention’s executive committee, upon hearing the group may drop the ban: “We understand that we are now a minority, that it is not popular to have Biblical values, not popular to take stands that seem intolerant. This is going to lead to a disintegration of faith-based values.”

If the Boy Scouts lose supporters like Page, the organization shouldn’t be too concerned. Others who see the value in Scouting — the leadership and community values it instills in young men — and who embrace diversity will take their place. America is quickly growing more accepting of gay people. In 2012, 48 percent of Americans supported same-sex marriage and 43 percent opposed it, according to the Pew Research Center. This is an improvement from 2001, when 35 percent of American adults supported gay marriage and 57 percent opposed it.

It’s far past time for the Boy Scouts to acknowledge that gay men have been participating in the organization since its inception and this has not harmed its ability to influence thoughtful, civic-minded young men. Accepting this fact by openly admitting gay people will not change the Scouts’ ability to deliver on its mission.

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