Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker is just days into his formal campaign for the 2016 Republican presidential nomination, and he's already taking heat for a comment that appears to imply that gay Boy Scouts and leaders are predators.
Speaking to the conservative Independent Journal Review, the governor weighed in on Monday's news that the Boy Scouts of America's national executive committee had voted unanimously to move toward rescinding the organization's long-standing ban on out gay adults serving as Scouts, volunteers, or troop leaders.
"I was an Eagle Scout, my kids have been involved, [my wife] Tonette was a den mother," he told IJR. "I have had a lifelong commitment to the Scouts and support the previous membership policy because it protected children and advanced Scout values."
At a Tuesday campaign stop in Las Vegas, Walker was asked to clarify his comments, but basically repeated his earlier remarks, noting that he was an Eagle Scout, his sons were Boy Scouts, and mother (in addition to his wife) was a den mother. "I think their previous policy was personally fine," Walker concluded.
It's unclear which "previous policy" Walker was referring to, since until 2013, the Boy Scouts of America banned openly gay youth from participating in the organization. The move to lift the organization's ban on openly gay adults will not be finalized until it receives approval from BSA's national executive board.
The Washington Post asked Walker's campaign for some clarification of his comments:
"The previous policy protected Scouts from the rancorous political debate over policy issues and culture wars,"AshLee Strong, a spokeswoman for Walker's campaign, said in a statement to the Post on Tuesday. "Scouts should not be used as a political football on issues that can often be heated and divisive."
LGBT groups who celebrated Monday's news about the coming policy change were decidedly less pleased with the Walker campaign's spin.
Human Rights Campaign president Chad Griffin blasted Walker in a statement Tuesday:
"Scott Walker's suggestion that the Boy Scouts of America's current discriminatory policy somehow 'protects' children from gay adults is offensive, outrageous, and absolutely unacceptable. His comments imply that we represent a threat to the safety and well-being of young people."
On Wednesday, HRC sent out another e-mail blast to supporters, calling on Walker and his campaign to answer the inevitable question raised by his contentious comment.
"Scott Walker claims to be a new face on the national stage, but he’s introducing himself to a national audience with an outdated and offensive idea," said JoDee Winterhoff, HRC's director of policy and political affairs, in the Wednesday statement. "He and his campaign should answer this simple, straightforward question: Does he think we pose a threat to the health and safety of children? Yes or no? His campaign's attempt to duck this simple question is unworthy of a candidate who is seeking an office that is responsible for representing all Americans — including LGBT people."
The conflation of sexual predators with gay adults has been repeatedly debunked, but that hasn't stopped right-wing pundits and politicians, including Walker's rival presidential candidate Mike Huckabee, from claiming that the BSA's long-standing ban on out Scouts was a protective measure to thwart pedophiles.