The Boy Scouts of America leadership ruffled a few feathers earlier this week when it reaffirmed its decision to not allow openly gay members in its ranks.
They didn’t ruffle ours.
That’s not because we hate homosexuals, or condone discrimination against them although some will undoubtedly interpret our view that way.
We just happen to support the right of a private organization to determine its own policies on this subject especially an organization that deals with young people.
And we readily admit that the Boy Scouts may be out of step with society on its stand on homosexuality. The Girl Scouts, the Boys and Girls Club, 4-H clubs and other youth groups prohibit discrimination based on sexual orientation.
Indeed, public sentiment on gay rights has never been stronger. Polls indicate that a majority of Americans support the ability for gays to serve openly in the military, and the number of Americans who support same-sex marriage is also increasing. As Jena McGregor of the Washington Post pointed out, the general trend line of public opinion is toward more inclusion, not less.
The Boy Scouts conceded that some of its own board members personally disagree with the policy but that the majority of its leadership felt that it was in the best overall interest of the organization. So we wouldn’t be surprised if sometime in the future the Boy Scouts reverse this policy.
But we respect the Boy Scouts’ decision and the guts it showed not buckling to pressure by bending its principles for a group that has a different perspective than its own.
They understood the ramifications of reaffirming a policy that some find hurtful. It has already cost them some financial support and probably a few members. Despite this, they stood firm and didn’t let a special interest group hijack their mission — a mission that does not include teaching young people about sex or sexual orientation.
Our guess is the overwhelming majority of the Boy Scouts community agrees with the policy and probably regret that this issue has become such a distraction to the organization. The issue of sexual orientation is multifaceted and complex. The organization has taken the position that it is not Scouting’s role to introduce this topic in a youth development program.
It’s hard for us to label this stand as misguided or misbegotten. Gay rights are still evolving in this country. No doubt the subject is still very polarizing in many communities even as public opinion shifts toward more openness. The Boy Scouts appreciate this.
We can’t call the Boy Scouts’ policy discriminatory either as others have charged. From a legal standpoint, the issue is settled. The Supreme Court ruled in 2000 that as a private organization, the Boy Scouts could exclude gays. But even without this legal justification, we feel the Scouts have the right to define their own values and mission. If others disagree they can choose not to participate.
We doubt if the policy drives that many people away. The Boy Scouts have a 100-year tradition and record that few organizations can match.
Moreover, the Boy Scouts made it clear in reaffirming the policy that they respect everyone’s right to have and express a different opinion and adamantly oppose the mistreatment of others based on any perceived difference, including sexual orientation.
So do we.