Jul 27, 2015 5:56 PM

Boy Scouts introduce new policy on openly gay adult leaders

The Associated Press

NEW YORK (AP) — The Boy Scouts of America's top policy-making board planned a vote Monday on ending its blanket ban on gay adult leaders while allowing church-sponsored Scout units to maintain the exclusion if that accorded with their faith.

The new policy, aimed at easing a controversy that has embroiled the Boy Scouts for decades, would take effect immediately if approved by the BSA's 80-member National Executive Board. Its members were convening for a closed-to-the-media meeting conducted by teleconference.

The stage was set for Monday's vote on May 21, when the BSA's president, former Defense Secretary Robert Gates, told the Scouts' annual national meeting that that the long-standing ban on participation by openly gay adults was no longer sustainable. He said the ban was likely to be targeted by lawsuits that the Scouts were apt to lose.

Two weeks ago, the new policy was approved unanimously by the BSA's 17-member National Executive Committee. It would allow local Scout units to select adult leaders without regard to sexual orientation — a stance that several Scout councils have already adopted in defiance of the official national policy.

In 2013, after heated internal debate, the BSA decided to allow openly gay youth as scouts, but not gay adults as leaders. Several denominations that sponsor large numbers of Scout units — including the Roman Catholic church, the Mormon church and the Southern Baptist Convention — have been apprehensive about ending the ban on gay adults.

The BSA's top leaders have pledged to defend the right of any church-sponsored units to continue excluding gays as adult volunteers.

Under the proposed new policy:

—Prospective employees of the national organization could no longer be denied a staff position on the basis of sexual orientation.

—Gay leaders who were previously removed from Scouting because of the ban would have the opportunity to reapply for volunteer positions.

—If otherwise qualified, a gay adult would be eligible to serve as a Scoutmaster or unit leader.

—There would be no change in the long-standing requirement that youth and adult Scout members profess a "duty to God."

Gates, who became the BSA's president in May 2014, said at the time that he personally would have favored ending the ban on gay adults, but he opposed any further debate after the Scouts' policymaking body upheld the ban. In May, however, he said at the BSA's annual national meeting that recent events "have confronted us with urgent challenges I did not foresee and which we cannot ignore."

He cited an announcement by the BSA's New York City chapter in early April that it had hired Pascal Tessier, the nation's first openly gay Eagle Scout, as a summer camp leader. Gates also cited broader developments related to gay rights, and warned that rigidly maintaining the ban "will be the end of us as a national movement."

The BSA faced potential lawsuits in New York and some other states if it continued to enforce its ban. And the exclusionary policy prompted numerous major corporations to suspend charitable donations to the Scouts in recent years.

Like several other major youth organizations, the Boy Scouts have experienced a membership decline in recent decades. Current membership, according to the BSA, is about 2.4 million boys and about 1 million adults.


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