Should the Boy Scouts of America end its long-standing ban on gay membership?
That is the question that the Boy Scouts of America board of directors is debating this week. An answer is expected tomorrow.
As a private organization, the Boy Scouts is able to decide whom to allow into its ranks - and whom to exclude. In fact, a 2000 Supreme Court ruling rightly upheld the Boy Scouts' ban on gays as a constitutional matter of freedom of association.
But just because the Boys Scouts can ban gay boys and young men from its ranks doesn't mean it should. The Boy Scouts' ban on gays harms both the organization itself, and the people it professes to serve.
It seems most Americans agree the Boy Scouts' anti-gay stance reeks of anachronistic intolerance. A national poll conducted by YouGov and the Huffington Post found that just 32 percent of Americans believe the Boy Scouts should continue its ban of gay members. Even poll respondents who were former Boy Scouts themselves favored allowing gay members into the organization by a 44 percent to 39 percent margin.
Last year, when the Scouts failed to act on an opportunity to reverse its ban on gay members, it cost the organization millions of dollars. Merck, UPS, the United Way, the Intel Foundation and other large donors pledged to stop donating to the Boy Scouts until its discriminatory policies were overturned.
So far, the loss of money hasn't been enough to change the anti-gay stance. But maybe the loss of members - and the organizations' growing irrelevancy - will.
According to Reuters, "Youth membership in the Boy Scouts has dropped 21 percent since 2000 to nearly 2.7 million. Adult leader membership has fallen 14 percent to just over 1 million, and the number of units has declined 12.6 percent to 108,971." Undoubtedly, part of the reason for the decline of the Scouts' membership numbers is related to some parents' unwillingness to allow their boys to be involved with an organization that is viewed by a growing number of people as bigoted and narrow-minded.
But this issue isn't about polls or popularity. It's not about what will make the Boy Scouts more appealing to donors or more enticing to new members and their families.
This issue is about right and wrong.
By banning gays, the Boy Scouts of America is doing both gay youth and our society an extraordinary disservice.
The Boy Scouts, with its ability to provide skills, support and positive influence, is in a position to help gay boys and young men build self-esteem and confidence - something that is, all too often, in short supply in the lives of gay youth. Rather than reaching out to potential gay scouts, however, the Boy Scouts prefers to rebuff them. Regrettably, the young men who realize they are gay after joining the organization are forced to remain closeted, silenced and ashamed -- often despite being loyal, exemplary members of the Boy Scouts for years.
Unfortunately, if the Boy Scouts' board members overturn their ban on gay scouts Wednesday, it would be just the first step in a long journey to make all boys and young men welcome in the organization. That's because the Boy Scouts' would still permit local chapters to exclude gay members.
While the Boy Scouts continue its outrageous practice of rejecting potential members based on their sexuality, the Girl Scouts are a beacon of reason. For more than 20 years, the Girl Scouts have accepted all girls and young women, and maintains "no membership policies on sexual preference." That's one page the Boy Scouts should steal from the Girl Scouts' handbook.
As the majority of Americans has grown more welcoming of gay individuals in all aspects of life, the Boys Scouts' ban on gay members has become a shameful blemish on an otherwise great organization. The Boy Scouts should universally overturn its ban on gay membership -- not just because it's in the best interest of the organization, but because it's the right thing to do.