The Boy Scouts of America may become the latest institution to come to a new understanding about what it means to be gay in our society.
The organization stood fast to its policy that banned the participation of gay scouts, leaders and volunteers in the face of widespread criticism and fought (and won) a court battle that went all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court.
But next week, the organization’s board is expected to vote to relax its national bylaws and let individual troops decide whether they want to exclude people based on their sexual orientation.
While that is not exactly a ringing commitment to fight for anti-discrimination, it is a step forward. It promises to bring the Boy Scouts into line with the Girl Scouts and the U.S. armed services, which have ended their prohibitions against homosexuals. It also reflects the changing attitudes reflected by the voters in Maine and two other states that voted to legalize same-sex marriage, permitting families led by two men or two women to have all the protections and responsibilities that other couples have always had.
The Boy Scout ban was supposed to protect children, but of course it did not. Gay scouts were discriminated against and denied awards and ranks simply because of who they were, not for anything they did.
And as files made public as part of a civil lawsuit show, scouts have for decades been sexually abused by leaders and volunteers. These crimes were hushed up while the organization was proclaiming to uphold high moral standards for young people. It turns out that banning leaders from participation based on their sexual orientation does not protect children from predators.
The Boy Scouts have reportedly decided to consider this change because they can’t raise as much money from corporate sponsors as they once did.
Companies that are trying to improve their public image don’t want to be associated with organizations that discriminate. There are less controversial ways to help.
This is a change in attitude, not just for the scouts, but many in our society. Some people are not ready to accept that, but many more are and especially young people.
We wish the Boy Scouts well in this transition, and hope that the relaxing of the policy is not the only thing the group does to make up for past mistakes.