Lambda Legal Hails Decision by Boy Scouts President to Allow Local Councils to Lift Ban on Gay Leaders

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May 21, 2015
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Jon W. Davidson

Robert M. Gates, president of the National Council of the Boy Scouts of America, today announced that the national organization would no longer enforce its ban on local Boy Scout councils allowing gay men to join the organization and serve in leadership positions, noting that the organization could no longer “ignore the social, political, and judicial changes taking place in our country.”

However, Gates, the former director of the CIA and former US. Secretary of Defense, added that he supports allowing religious organizations that sponsor a majority of local councils to set their own policies for leaders, which could permit discrimination to continue in a majority of Boy Scout units indefinitely.

Once again, the Boy Scouts of America is taking important steps to limit the harms of its longstanding policy and practices of sexual orientation discrimination. First, after government and nonprofit organizations objected to sponsoring Explorer and Learning for Life programs that discriminated against gay men and boys, the Boy Scouts spun off those programs and ended discrimination within them. Two years ago, the organization announced that youth members of the Boy Scouts would no longer be excluded based on their sexual orientation. Now, in response to a number of local Boy Scout councils defying the national policy of demanding expulsion from membership of any man learned to be gay, Mr. Gates today stated that the organization would not revoke those councils’ charters and instead would work internally to reexamine the group’s national policy. Lambda Legal welcomes this development, and urges the organization not just to limit the harms its policy has been causing, but to end those harms once and for all by simply prohibiting discrimination throughout its ranks – just as other national youth groups like the Girl Scouts, the Boys and Girls Clubs, and the 4-H Club do.

Mr. Gates suggested today that the national Boy Scouts policy be amended to allow organizations that sponsor local Boy Scout troops and Cub Scout dens to determine the standard for their Scout leaders. Such an approach would be unacceptable, because, given the large number of troops and dens sponsored by anti-gay denominations, it would allow outright sexual orientation to continue broadly within Scouting. 

Scouting is better than that. Acts of bias cannot be reconciled with the Scout law’s obligation to be friendly, courteous, kind, and brave. Moreover, as Mr. Gates acknowledged in his statement today at the national organization’s annual business meeting, ‘The country is changing and [the Boy Scouts is] increasingly at odds with the legal landscape at both the state and federal levels.’ In Lambda Legal’s Boy Scouts of America v. Dale case, the New Jersey Supreme Court found that the Boy Scouts’ discriminatory policy violated state law, but the U.S. Supreme Court held that the Boy Scouts had a constitutional right to choose the leaders they want. Today, Mr. Gates acknowledged that the organization’s ‘legal defenses have weakened since the Dale case,’ and seemed to recognize that having a right and doing what is right are not always the same thing. We congratulate Mr. Gates for this step in the right direction and urge the Boy Scouts to follow the lead of other national youth organizations by putting an end to its discriminatory policy altogether.

Read the press release.