At their annual meeting in May, the Boy Scouts of America (BSA) passed a resolution lifting their ban on membership for openly gay scouts.According to the organization’s website, the Membership Standards Resolution stated, “No youth may be denied membership in the Boy Scouts of America on the basis of sexual orientation or preference alone.”
The resolution was approved with a 61 percent majority of the BSA’s National Council’s 1,400 members and will go into effect January 1, 2014. While the new membership policy permits openly homosexual scouts, it maintains its ban on gay scout leaders.
In a press release following the decision, the Boy Scouts clarified their reasoning: “The resolution also reinforces that Scouting is a youth program, and any sexual conduct, whether heterosexual or homosexual, by youth of Scouting age is contrary to the virtues of Scouting. A change to the current membership policy for adult leaders was not under consideration; thus, the policy for adults remains in place.” The Boy Scouts of America is a private non-profit organization.
The decision comes after the historical 2000 Supreme Court case, Boy Scouts v. Dale.
James Dale was an eight-year-old Cub Scout in New Jersey later achieving the rank of Eagle Scout. In 1989, his application was approved to become an assistant scoutmaster. While away for college at Rutgers University, he became co-president of the campus’ Lesbian/Gay Alliance and was published in an interview advocating for the rights of homosexual teens. Dale appealed to the New Jersey Supreme Court, claiming that the BSA violated New Jersey’s Public Accommodation Law, which expressly forbids discrimination based on sexual orientation. When the case was heard by the U.S. Supreme Court, the majority ruled in favor of the Boy Scouts’ claim to the First Amendment right to expressive association.
The court stated “The forced inclusion of an unwanted person in a group infringes the group’s freedom of expressive association if the presence of that person affects in a significant way the group’s ability to advocate public or private viewpoints.”
This was based on the claim that disavowing homosexuality is a central tenant of the Boy Scout’s moral instruction. This meant that the Boy Scouts ban on homosexuality was considered constitutional.
Legislatures have had mixed reactions to the change in policy. In an interview on the radio show Washington Watch, Texas representative Louie Gohmert (R. TX)stated that he was “brokenhearted over the vote with the Boy Scouts.”
A sentiment also shared by Governor Rick Perry, while on the show, Gohmert stated that “Scouting is not about sex, it’s about building character. But those who wanted to push their agenda have now put parents and young men in the position of making a decision; is this where I want to spend my time? Is this an organization that I do want to be associated with? I think the jury is going to be out for a while. I do think that those on that board made a decision that was driven by political correctness (and) by money.”
In addition, some religious leaders will now refuse to allow the Boy Scouts to meet at their churches due to the policy, while others feel the resolution does not go far enough. On May 29, the California State Senate passed a bill stripping the Boy Scouts of their tax-exempt status due to its continued ban on gay scout leaders.