Boy Scouts need to open their doors to gay youth, leaders

The walls of homophobia keep tumbling down, with news this week that Minnesota became the latest state to legalize same-sex marriage. Add in Delaware and the District of Columbia, both of which enacted similar laws, and it’s been a good month for marriage equality, bringing the total now to 12 states (and the district).

Other parts of society still have a ways to go.

One of them is the Boy Scouts of America, which has always barred gay scouts and scout leaders, and until recently refused to budge on the issue.

At its 2013 annual meeting later this month, the national organization will consider a new bylaw that would partially lift the ban on gay scouts by not refusing membership to any boy under age 18.

Supporters of reforming the Scouts’ longstanding policy are applauding the move, but cautiously. The proposed change is far from ideal. It would not apply to Eagle Scouts over age 18 — who would have their memberships revoked were they to come out — nor would it allow gay scout leaders.

As our story on page 10 notes, the Jewish community has come down on the side of justice and fairness in this debate. In February, the National Jewish Committee on Scouting voted overwhelmingly to urge an end to such discrimination in the scouting movement.

That same organization will continue to lobby for further liberalization of the scouts’ bylaws, to allow the admission of openly gay Eagle Scouts and gay scout leaders.

Glacially slow change within the scouting movement is easy to explain. Many, if not most, Boy Scouts troops are sponsored by religious denominations. Given that the Catholic Church, the Mormon Church and many evangelicals remain opposed to homosexuality, they will continue to fight against liberalizing the rules.

Yet as with gay marriage, the scouting movement is subject to broader concepts of basic fairness in a secular society. No one would force a church to perform a gay wedding, but at the same time, no religious group may use its beliefs to deny citizens their civil rights.

While the Boy Scouts are a private organization, they are also nondenominational and ecumenical. That means they must err on the side of the broadest definition of fairness. In 21st-century America, that means they must change their homophobic ways.

The National Jewish Committee on Scouting may not be able to persuade all of its scouting counterparts to leapfrog ahead in the fight, but it’s clear they will not give up.

We applaud their efforts and call on the Boy Scouts of America to open its doors to all boys and men who wish to commit themselves to its worthy purpose.