As widely expected, the Boy Scouts of America made it official today, lifting the blanket ban on gay and bisexual adults serving as volunteers and employees.
The BSA’s national executive board today ratified a resolution, which had received unanimous support from its executive committee July 10, to end the ban, the group’s president, Robert Gates, announced in a video (watch below) this afternoon. The resolution, which goes into effect immediately, passed with 79 percent support, according to a BSA statement.
“As I said during our national annual meeting in May, due to the social, political, and legal changes taking place in our country and in our movement, I did not believe the adult leadership policy could be sustained,” said Gates, who, as secretary of Defense, oversaw the end of the “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy. Maintaining the ban, he said, would have resulted in numerous lawsuits at great cost to the organization, and lifting it will allow the BSA to continue focusing on its core mission.
This means the organization will no longer discriminate on the basis of sexual orientation or require local troops and councils to do so, but the local groups may still set their own policies for employees and volunteer leaders — meaning, for instance, that a Scout troop sponsored by a conservative church could refuse to let gay people serve. About 70 percent of troops are sponsored by faith-based organizations, many of them with antigay beliefs.
LGBT groups praised the move generally but objected to the religious exemption. “Today’s vote by the Boy Scouts of America to allow gay, lesbian, and bisexual adults to work and volunteer is a welcome step toward erasing a stain on this important organization,” said a statement issued by Human Rights Campaign president Chad Griffin. “But including an exemption for troops sponsored by religious organizations undermines and diminishes the historic nature of today’s decision. Discrimination should have no place in the Boy Scouts, period.”
Zach Wahls, the son of two mothers who is executive director of Scouts for Equality, told The Washington Post it’s “disconcerting” that many faith-based groups will continue to discriminate against gay adults. “Scouting is a place to hone important life skills and a moral compass,” he said. “And that should not be sullied by discrimination, I think that’s really self-evident.”
Attorney Evan Wolfson noted that the vote shows much has changed since he argued the case of gay Scouting leader James Dale, in which the Supreme Court 15 years ago upheld the BSA’s ban on openly gay youth and adults alike. But more must be done, he told BuzzFeed. “I hope that Boy Scouts will finish the job as soon as possible in order to be attractive to parents and young people who only want to participate in an organization that lives up to its own values of respecting all people,” he said.
The BSA’s executive board lifted the ban on gay youth members in a 2013 vote, with the policy going into effect at the beginning of 2014.