Some things are inevitable, however slowly people may accept them. As same-sex marriage and other gay issues came to inhabit the American mainstream, it was inevitable either that the Boy Scouts would change its stand and accept gay Scouts and Scout leaders or that the organization would wither. The Boy Scouts apparently has chosen to accept reality, sort of.
It had to be a painful decision, but not only were the Scouts on the wrong side of history and human rights, but heading toward the wrong side of solvency. Big donors, including the Merck Co. Foundation, Intel Foundation, UPS and United Way, have stopped funding the Scouts because of its policy on gays.
The Boys Scouts strives to build character – young men who are “trustworthy, loyal, helpful, friendly, courteous, kind, obedient, cheerful, thrifty, brave, clean and reverent.” It’s impossible to instill those qualities while at the same time making it clear that discrimination against some boys is acceptable.
The change came suddenly. Only last summer, the Scouts had reaffirmed its policy against gay Scouts and Scout leaders. In 2000, it won a Supreme Court ruling on the question. Now, the Boy Scouts says that as early as next week, it may abolish the national ban.
The plan going forward would be to vest that decision in individual Scouting organizations. It is, in that regard, a half a loaf, but big changes often come in increments. The new policy acknowledges that many troops are sponsored by churches, civic groups and schools, some of which may hesitate to accept gay Scouts and leaders.
They shouldn’t. If Americans have learned anything over the past several years, it is that gays are their neighbors, relatives, colleagues and friends. Homosexuality is a fact of life, not a condition or moral failing.
There will be resistance. Southern Baptists, who consider homosexuality a sin, are already suggesting that they will support other boys organizations rather than the Boy Scouts. Let them go.
They’ll come around, eventually, just as they did on slavery, Jim Crow and interracial marriage. Southern fundamentalists found biblical authority for all of those offenses – talk about sinning – but later thought better of those positions.
In the meantime, the Boy Scouts of America is taking an unexpected big step away from an outdated and indefensible policy. With that, it will be able to serve a larger population and retain the support of those who find it hard to tolerate discrimination.