These boys displayed their sentiments at the “Save Our Scouts” prayer vigil and rally Wednesday in front of the Boy Scouts of America national headquarters in Irving, Texas.

Richard W. Rodriguez, Associated Press

With multiple fractures exposed, Boy Scouts delay decision on gays

  • New York Times
  • February 6, 2013 - 6:12 PM

IRVING, TEXAS - The Boy Scouts of America, which reconfirmed last summer its policy banning openly gay people from participation, then announced last week that it was reconsidering the ban, said on Wednesday that it would postpone a decision until May as talk of gays in the ranks has roiled the storied organization.

An end to the national ban on gays, which the U.S. Supreme Court said in 2000 was legal free speech by a private organization, would create a huge new moment of risk, experimentation and change people on both sides of the issue. The proposal floated last week would allow local scouting councils to decide membership rules for themselves.

The proposed change created multiple fracture lines of its own. Some supporters of the ban said they feared a wave of departures by conservative church-sponsored troops, while supporters of the change said that scouting, with fewer boys every year donning the tan uniform to work for merit badges, would be revitalized. Scout leaders who favored a complete about-face on gays -- prohibiting discrimination everywhere in the organization -- said the compromise position by the executive board would still leave scouting open to accusations of homophobia by its critics, since discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation would still be allowed locally.

Other leaders and parents said a fracture between conservative councils and liberal ones could create walls -- troops still banning gays disdaining gay-led troops and vice versa -- or could open the door to a dialogue about difference and diversity.

The Boy Scouts said in a statement that it had received "an outpouring of feedback from the American public" over the proposed change.

"It reinforces how deeply people care about scouting and how passionate they are about the organization," the statement said.

The debate over the issue, according to scout leaders and parents, was shaped by two forces that have defined scouting for decades: the huge role played by churches in sponsoring scout troops and the tradition of local control that the group's chapters, or councils, have had in shaping the flavor of scouting, which can differ greatly from urban downtowns to rural farm country and from roughing it in the woods to environmental cleanup on the beach.

Maintaining local control became a crossroads of the debate. Although many of the church sponsors -- almost 70 percent of local scouting units are backed by a religious-based group -- are culturally conservative and might in some cases be opposed to open acceptance of gays in society, they also cherish the right to make scouting a cultural adjunct of their respective belief systems. In Mormon-led scout troops, a Mormon prayer usually opens and closes a troop's meeting, while in a Catholic group, it might be the Lord's Prayer.

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