Debate surges over Boy Scouts policy on gay membership

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(CNN) — A fresh debate over the Boy Scouts of America’s ban on gays sprang to life after word that the organization’s leaders could be on the verge of a landmark change this week.

Word of the possible move — announced last week and up for consideration at a three-day meeting that begins Monday in Irving, Texas — has sparked strong reactions from supporters and opponents.

“Hopefully the BSA will make the decision to be more inclusive! I enjoyed my time as a scout, but would not want my future children to join an organization that doesn’t promote equality,” said Cole Fuller, one of thousands of readers who have shared their views in the comments sections of CNN’s recent stories on the issue.

Other readers slammed the organization for considering the change and criticized gay rights advocates for pushing for it.

“Take a challenge and create your own organization with gay ideals, but don’t ever force or coerce a child and don’t force us to say your lifestyle is acceptable,” said another poster who identified himself as Dave McFarland.

If the organization is “forced to comply with homosexuality rights,” commenter Charles Manteghi said, “they should close their doors instead of giving in to this nonsense.”

In an opinion piece for HLNTV.com, writer Andrew Eidelbach explained why the “discriminatory policy” banning gay members sparked his decision to send back his Eagle Scout medal last year. And he criticized the Boy Scouts’ leadership, who are discussing a change that would let local councils decide where they stand on the issue.

“The Scout slogan, ‘Be prepared,’ is engrained into every Scout. It doesn’t just mean having a raincoat when it’s pouring; it means having a plan and being ready to take action,” he wrote. “Nowhere are Scouts taught to simply pass the buck, as the BSA seems to be doing now with this policy. It’s not enough.”

Commenter David Cohen argued that any change in the national Boy Scouts policy will come because troops and sponsoring organizations are pushing for it.

“If they do decide to remove the national ban and leave it up to each local sponsoring organization — and THAT is what is being considered — it will be because of pressure from those sponsors, because of the negative effects they see the ban creating, etc,” he wrote. “If they do this, it will be because the BSA sees it in their interests to do so. Go argue with THEM.”

On Monday, one prominent conservative organization said it plans to.

Changing the policy against having openly gay leaders or scouts “would be a grave mistake,” the conservative Family Research Council and dozens of other organizations said in a full-page ad printed in USA Today on Monday, calling on the Boy Scouts to “show courage” and “stand firm for timeless values.”

“Every American who believes in freedom of thought and religious liberty should be alarmed by the attacks upon the Boy Scouts, who have had core convictions about morality for 100 years,” the ad said. “Every Scout takes an oath to keep himself ‘morally straight.’ The Boy Scouts have every right to include sexual conduct in how they define that term.”

Political leaders have also weighed in.

President Barack Obama said Sunday that he thinks the policy should change.

“My attitude is that gays and lesbians should have access and opportunity, the same way everybody else does, in every institution and walk of life, and, you know, the scouts are a great institution that are promoting young people and exposing them to opportunities and leadership that will serve people for the rest of their lives,” Obama said in an interview with CBS before Sunday’s Super Bowl. “And I think that nobody should be barred for that.”

At a Texas state Boy Scouts meeting Saturday, Gov. Rick Perry condemned the proposed change.

“Scouting is about teaching a substantial amount of life lessons,” he said. “Sexuality is not one of them. It never has been; it doesn’t need to be.”

The Dallas Morning News said he told reporters after the event, “I think most people see absolutely no reason to change the position and neither do I.”

The Boy Scouts of America has 2.7 million members nationwide.

Its existing policy, which bans openly gay troop members and leaders, came under fire last year after Jennifer Tyrrell, an Ohio den leader, was dismissed by her local Boy Scout troop for being a lesbian.

In 2000, the Supreme Court ruled that the Boy Scouts have a constitutional right to oppose homosexuality in its ranks.

“Forcing a group to accept certain members may impair the ability of the group to express those views, and only those views, that it intends to express,” then-Chief Justice William Rehnquist wrote after the court’s 5-4 decision. He added that the decision was not meant to approve or condemn the Scouts’ view on homosexuality.

Even if the national policy changes, individual troops — more than 70% of which are affiliated with church or religious groups — would still have the chance to decide where they stand.

“Currently, the BSA is discussing potentially removing the national membership restriction regarding sexual orientation,” Boy Scouts spokesman Deron Smith said in a written statement announcing the proposed change last week. “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.”

Smith stressed last week that the organization would not push any particular position to troops, members or parents

“The policy change under discussion would allow the religious, civic, or educational organizations that oversee and deliver Scouting to determine how to address the issue,” he said.

The organization’s National Executive Board is meeting for three days starting on Monday. On Friday, Smith declined to specify when a vote on the matter would take place.

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