Boy Scouts to consider lifting ban on openly gay youths

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(CNN) — The Boy Scouts of America would no longer deny membership to youth on the basis of sexual orientation but would maintain its ban on openly gay adult leaders under a proposal it is considering, the group said Friday.

The organization’s executive committee made the proposal, which is expected to be presented to the Boy Scouts’ voting members at its May meeting in Dallas. If the policy is approved, it will take effect January 1.

“If approved, the resolution would mean that ‘no youth may be denied membership in the Boy Scouts of America on the basis of sexual orientation or preference alone.’ The BSA will maintain the current membership policy for all adults,” Boy Scouts public relations director Deron Smith said.

The Boy Scouts have been considering a change in the longstanding policy against allowing openly gay members. In February, the Boy Scouts’ national executive board postponed a vote on lifting its outright ban on openly gay Scouts and troop leaders and ordered a survey of its members on the issue.

The survey showed a generational split between adults and youth in the scouting community. While most adults support the Boy Scouts’ current policy of “excluding open and avowed homosexuals, young parents and teens tend to oppose the policy,” according to the survey, which was also released Friday.

The change doesn’t go far enough for James Dale, an Eagle Scout and former assistant troop leader who sued the scouts under New Jersey state law after he was kicked out of the Boy Scouts in 1990 because he is gay.

“This proposal continues to send a destructive message, offering the veneer of acceptance while still communicating that being gay is immoral,” Dale said. “Fair-minded Americans will not again welcome the Scouts until they stop discriminating.”

Dale’s lawsuit, filed in 1992, said his expulsion violated the state’s anti-discrimination law. When his case made it to the Supreme Court in 2000, the court ruled that it would violate the Boy Scouts’ First Amendment protection of freedom of association to require that it accept gay members.

Lawyer Evan Wolfson, who represented Dale in that case, applauded the move to include gay youth in scouting but agreed that banning them once they’re adults is wrong.

“Barring discrimination against gay youth is an important step forward that is in the best interest of young people and scouting in America,” Wolfson said. “But leaving in place a discriminatory policy once those kids grow up still sends a damaging message to gay and non-gay young people that is inconsistent with the other values that scouting claims to teach.”

Former Eagle Scout John Stemberger, founder of OnMyHonor.Net, a group opposing the policy change, said the Boy Scouts currently allow anyone to participate, disallowing only “the open and aggressive promotion of homosexuality and political agendas,” according to a statement.

“When it comes to young boys, parents should still have the final say on the issues of sexuality and politics,” he said. “Allowing open homosexuality in the BSA injects both those topics right into the program. We urge the national council to vote against this resolution and uphold the time-tested membership policy of the Boy Scouts.”

There’s no guarantee the approximately 1,400 voting members will follow the national board’s lead in its May vote. The local representatives who are voting members of the national council are supposed to represent their local councils’ viewpoints.

“It is up to each (local) council and each voting member of the National Council to determine how to fulfill these obligations in a manner that fulfills their responsibility to both the Boy Scouts of America and to their local council,” Scouts spokesman Smith wrote in an e-mail.

The Family Research Council hopes to convince the voting members to vote “No.” The group is presenting a Stand with the Scouts simulcast on May 5, asking people to watch together in their churches and homes.

“The outcome of this decision will affect the very future of Scouting, as a shift in the policy would undermine the very principles held by the BSA for over a century,” said the council, on its website. “This decision is too important for those who value the Boy Scouts and its value to American communities to stand idly by.”

Provo, Utah, Scout leader Paul Barker sees the glass as half-full.

“I am forever an optimist, and I see it as a very big step forward in the right direction to which I will applaud,” said Barker, an Eagle Scout and married father of four, ages 4 months to 7 years.

Saddened by recent stories of Eagle Scouts turning in their badges, Barker launched Ally Patches to support gay Scouts and their allies and create an atmosphere that’s more welcoming.

Barker’s website is selling patches similar to those Scouts earn to signal support for gay members. (The price tag is $3.50 per patch, and $1 goes to the Family Acceptance Project.)

“I had great, great leaders (in the Scouts); they were like second parents to me,” he said. “I took their example of love and compassion and wanted to do something.”

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