May 19, 2013

Boy Scouts prepare for vote on gays

Rhetoric is heated as religious groups say they do not want openly gay boys in the Boy Scouts.

By DAVID CRARY The Associated Press

(Continued from page 1)

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James Oliver, left, hugs his brother and fellow Eagle Scout Will Oliver, who is gay, as Will and other supporters carry four boxes filled with a petition to end the ban on gay scouts in February in Dallas.

File photo/The Associated Press

Knowing these churches oppose scouting roles for gay adults, the BSA leadership hopes they will be willing to back the easing of the ban on gay youth. As part of this effort, the BSA is emphasizing that sexual conduct by any Scout -- straight or gay -- would be considered unacceptable.

"We are unaware of any major religious chartered organization that believes a youth member simply stating he or she is attracted to the same sex, but not engaging in sexual activity, should make him or her unwelcome in their congregation," the Scouts say in their new background document.

Southern Baptist leaders were outspoken earlier this year in opposing the tentative plan to let Scout units decide for themselves if they wanted to accept gays as adult leaders.

Frank Page, president of the Southern Baptist Convention's Executive Committee, said the new proposal "is more acceptable to those who hold a biblical form of morality," but he nonetheless favors its defeat.

"A No vote keeps the current policy in place, an outcome we would overwhelmingly support," Page told Baptist Press, the SBC's official news agency.

Leaders of some smaller conservative denominations -- including the Assemblies of God and the Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod -- have signed a statement opposing the proposal to accept gay youth.

Some larger sponsors have either endorsed the proposal, or -- in the case of the United Methodist Church and Catholic Church -- declined to specify a position. The National Catholic Committee on Scouting issued a statement describing the membership debate as "difficult and sensitive" but stopping short of any explicit recommendation for how Catholic delegates to the BSA meeting should vote.

The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints announced in April that it supports the new proposal, saying the BSA made a good-faith effort to address a complex issue. The Mormons sponsor more Scout units than any other organization, serving about 430,000 of the 2.6 million youth in Scouting.

The United Methodists are the second-largest sponsor, serving about 363,000 youth members; the Catholic Church is No. 3, with a youth membership of about 273,000.

Several regional Scout councils already have declared their position on the membership proposal.

In Tennessee, the Nashville-based Middle Tennessee Council and Jackson-based West Tennessee Area Council said they oppose the proposed change and support the current broad ban on gay youth and adults.

"We are continuing to uphold the standards, beliefs and traditions Scouting has held for over 100 years," said Lee Beaman, board president of the Middle Tennessee Council, which says it serves 35,000 youth and adults.

The day after that announcement, Bill Moser, a longtime Scout leader in Clarksville, Tenn., announced his resignation, saying he couldn't support a policy that would force openly gay youth out of Scouting when they turned 18.

The Greater New York Councils, which serve about 43,000 Scouts in New York City, is supporting the proposal to accept gay youths, calling it "a positive step forward." It is among the councils urging the Scouts to also accept gays as adult leaders.

The Los Angeles Area Council said it follows a nondiscrimination policy that extends to sexual orientation and it proposed that the BSA adopt a similar policy nationwide, opening its ranks to openly gay adults as well as youth.

However, the BSA leadership says no such alternative proposals will be put to a vote at the Grapevine meeting -- only the single proposal to lift the ban on gay youth.

If the proposal is approved, the new policy would take effect on Jan. 1, 2014. A task force already has been created to oversee its implementation.

 

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