Robert Gates, president of the Boy Scouts of America, today called for an end to the group's ban on openly gay adult leaders.
"The status quo in our movement's membership standards cannot be sustained," Gates said at the BSA's annual national meeting in Atlanta, according to a written copy of his speech posted on the organization's website.
Gates noted that a year ago he considered the policy on gay leaders a settled issue, after the BSA agreed to admit youth members without regard to sexual orientation, effective with the beginning of 2014, while keeping the ban on gay leaders. But much has changed since then, he said.
"Events during the past year have confronted us with urgent challenges I did not foresee and which we cannot ignore," he said. Several BSA councils, including those in New York and Denver, have made hiring decisions that defy the policy, and other councils are stating opposition to it, he said. Gates said that while he could revoke their charters for defying the policy, he will not.
"Nor can we ignore the social, political, and juridical changes taking place in our country -- changes taking place at a pace over this past year no one anticipated," Gates continued. "I remind you of the recent debates we have seen in places like Indiana and Arkansas over discrimination based on sexual orientation, not to mention the impending U.S. Supreme Court decision this summer on gay marriage." This all means the Scouts must "deal with the world as it is, not as we might wish it to be," he said, and "any other alternative will be the end of us as a national movement."
While supporting an end to the organization-wide ban, Gates said local sponsors of Scout troops, which include many churches, should be able to set their own policies. "We must, at all costs, preserve the religious freedom of our church partners to do this," he said.
He also said he wasn't asking the BSA's national board to make the change immediately, but the group should do it "sooner rather than later." The organization's case for defending the ban has become substantially weaker since the Supreme Court decision that upheld it in 2000, noted Gates, who, as U.S secretary of Defense, oversaw the end of "don't ask, don't tell."
Zach Wahls, executive director of Scouts for Equality, issued a statement praising Gates's speech, The New York Times reports. "Dr. Gates has built his reputation on straight talk and tough decisions, and I'm glad he's fully endorsing a reevaluation of the Boy Scouts' ban on gay adults," Wahls said. "It seems like the Boy Scouts will continue an internal dialogue about the subject and that a change within the next year or two is imminent."
Human Rights Campaign president Chad Griffin also issued a statement, saying, "We welcome as a step in the right direction President Gates' announcement that the organization will not revoke the charters of chapters that welcome LGBT Scout leaders and employees. But, as we have said many times previously, half measures are unacceptable, especially at one of America's most storied institutions. It's time for BSA leaders to show true leadership and embrace a full national policy of inclusion that does not discriminate against anyone because of who they are."
Equality Ohio noted that Gates's speech comes shortly after an Ohio Eagle Scout, Brian Peffly, lost his position as an assistant scoutmaster after it became known that he's gay. "It's time for Brian to be reinstated and get back to his troop," said Equality Ohio executive director Elyzabeth Holford in a statement.