The Boy Scouts of America (BSA) may decide as soon as next week to allow its 300 local councils to accept homosexuals.
The decision is a result of pressure from some local councils and board members who objected to the BSA’s refusal to change its national policy of denying gays membership following a two year study of the issue by a special committee.
The proposed new policy would leave decisions on membership and leadership up to the BSA’ s 290 local governing councils and 116,000 sponsoring religious and civic groups.
“Scouting has always been in an ongoing dialogue with the Scouting family to determine what is in the best interest of the organization and the young people we serve,” Smith told USA TODAY.
“The Boy Scouts would not, under any circumstances, dictate a position to units, members or parents. Under this proposed policy, the BSA would not require any chartered organization to act in ways inconsistent with that organization’s mission, principles or religious beliefs,” he said.
While some cheered the announcement, others said it would ruin Scouting.
The announcement comes after a campaign to change the policy that lasted more than a year and garnered more than 1.2 million online signatures at Change.org, according to the Gay and Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation (GLAAD), an advocacy group.
GLAAD spokesman Rich Ferraro told USA TODAY the Boy Scouts were taking an important “first step” that he hopes will lead to ending a national ban and allowing gays to participate in an important national cultural institution.
“The Girl Scouts, 4H Clubs and the U.S. military are fully inclusive, and that’s what we need from the Boy Scouts of America,” Ferraro said. “Until then, there will be young people out there who are harmed by this.”
“This would be an incredible step forward in the right direction,” said Zach Wahls, Eagle Scout and founder of Scouts for Equality. Wahls said his group will work with BSA councils and chartering organizations across the country to end exclusion of gays.
The pressure came from the ground up on the BSA national organization. Outside pressure groups had been trying for years to get a policy change, but it took local groups acting individually, as well as some prominent board members, to get the BSA to reconsider.
Their decision reflects the beginnings of a profound change in America. The BSA is one of the most outwardly conservative organizations in the country, rooted in our traditions and culture. For more than 100 years, the BSA has striven to give young boys the opportunity to make themselves into good citizens and good men. The fact that the BSA is changing its policy only reflects the larger change occurring in America as homosexuals challenge orthodoxy and demand to be treated as equal citizens before the law.
Many on the right will strenuously object to what the BSA is doing, as they will continue to oppose gay marriage and gay equality. It is a matter of conscience for them — as much as promoting gay marriage and gay equality is a matter of conscience for those on the other side. The question will be defined by one’s individual notions of freedom and justice — a question faced by every generation of Americans who strive to make the words of the Declaration of Independence and Constitution mean what they say.