Let Boy Scouts Make Own Decision

The Boy Scouts have helped millions of boys – gay and straight – during its more than 100-year history.

These are rocky times for the organization, however, as it finds itself the latest battleground between national liberals and national conservatives over the scouts’ policies regarding gay scouts and scoutmasters. The scouts are considering opening membership to gay scouts and scoutmasters, with a decision expected in May.

The Boy Scouts have a much tougher road to travel than the Girl Scouts, whose official policies state the organization doesn’t discriminate or recruit based on race, religion, ethnicity, sexual orientation, socioeconomic status, national origin or physical or developmental disability. Official Girl Scout literature avoids any references to homosexuality and the organization does not allow advocacy or promotion of certain lifestyles.

Because the Girl Scouts’ policy has been in place for decades, it will never have to face the political rancor the Boy Scouts is dealing with right now.

As Boy Scouts officials deal with pressure from the left and the right, several unflattering options to handle the diversity issue have been suggested – none of them very good.

The creation of an alternative scouting for gay youth, an idea gaining traction nationally, isn’t an answer. History has proven that separate but equal accommodations such as those used prior to the 1960s is a bad option. Separate but equal as much an abomination now as it was then – and creating separate accommodations for gay scouts is a dangerous precedent to set.

Another option discussed is the national organization simply letting the local councils make their own determination about admission of gays. This option would be too divisive to be practical. It would put local scouting officials in an impossible situation of deciding admission policies and make scout activities involving multiple jurisdictions a circus, much like sports leagues in the 1960s in which some Southern teams refused to play opponents that had too many black players.

The Boy Scouts’ have a right, as a private nonprofit organization, to adopt and enforce its own rules. The U.S. Supreme reinforced that right recently, in 2000, when it upheld the organization’s dismissal of an openly gay scout volunteer. The right of private groups to set their own membership parameters has been upheld by the Supreme Court for decades – and that shouldn’t change.

There is no middle road for the Boy Scouts. The national organization’s choice will disappoint someone.

That is a choice for the organization, and no one else, to make.