By Seth Gonzales
GRAPEVINE, Texas—The Boy Scouts of America’s National Council voted May 23 to allow openly gay youth admittance as members into the 103 year-old organization, effective Jan. 1, 2014.
In a statement, the organization said the decision to review the organization’s ban on homosexuals was made based on “growing input from within the Scouting family.”
“Today, following this review, the most comprehensive listening exercise in Scouting’s history, the approximate 1,400 voting members of the Boy Scouts of America’s National Council approved a resolution to remove the restriction denying membership to youth on the basis of sexual orientation alone,” the statement said.
The announcement was made at the Boy Scouts of America’s annual national meeting, held at the Gaylord Texan Resort in Grapevine. The BSA said the group did not reconsider its ban on homosexual adults as scout leaders and that policy remains in place.
“The Boy Scouts of America will not sacrifice its mission, or the youth served by the movement, by allowing the organization to be consumed by a single, divisive, and unresolved societal issue,” the statement added. “As the National Executive Committee just completed a lengthy review process, there are no plans for further review on this matter.”
BSA chief executive Wayne Brock in a story by The Associated Press called the process a “challenging chapter” in the organization’s history.
“While people have differing opinions on this policy, kids are better off when they’re in Scouting,” Brock said.
The announcement of the policy change comes amid intense debate about the role of homosexuals in the Boy Scouts of America.
Bishop Kevin J. Farrell asked that all people of goodwill pray that God will grant comfort and understanding to everyone impacted by this far-reaching decision.
“Catholic churches throughout the Diocese of Dallas have long enjoyed strong collaborations with the councils of the Boy Scouts of America,” Bishop Farrell said in a statement. “The diocese will now study the decision handed down by Boy Scouts’ national leadership today to determine whether churches in the diocese can continue to host and charter Boy Scout troops now and into the future.”
A statement from the National Catholic Committee on Scouting said that the organization also would review the policy change.
“Since the change in policy will not take effect until January 1, 2014, the National Catholic Committee on Scouting has adequate time to study its effects,” the statement said. “The NCCS will determine how it may impact Catholic chartered Scout units and activities. In doing so, we will work within the teachings of our Catholic faith and with the various local bishops and their diocesan scouting committees.”
The statement also said that the Catholic Church teaches that people “who experience a homosexual inclination or a same sex attraction are to be treated with respect recognizing the dignity of all persons.
“The church’s teaching is clear that engaging in sexual activity outside of marriage is immoral,” the statement said. “Individuals who are open and avowed homosexuals promoting and engaging in homosexual conduct are not living lives consistent with Catholic teaching.”
Opponents of the policy change said the move was unfortunate and a reflection of the organization’s willingness to bow to popular opinion.
“On this day, the most influential youth program in America has turned a very tragic corner,” said John Stemberger, founder of OnMyHonor.net, a nationwide coalition of parents, Scout Leaders, Scouting donors, Eagle Scouts, and other members of the Boy Scouts of America.
“The Boy Scouts of America has a certain logo and it has this phrase ‘Timeless Values.’ Today the BSA can no longer, in good faith, use this phrase,” he said. “It has demonstrated by its actions that the organization’s values are, in fact, not timeless. Instead, they are governed by the changing winds of polls, politics and public opinion.”
Stemberger said that according to the BSA’s own assessment, the move will cause as many as 400,000 current members to leave the organization.
“They also predicted they will lose $30 million of their $300 million budget,” Stemberger said. “That’s their estimates. Why they would do this just because some activists are screaming loudly makes no sense to me whatsoever.”
Regarding the organization’s decision not to change its policy on admitting adult homosexuals into the organization, Stemberger said that as a result of the May 23 decision, a change in that policy will only be a matter of time.
Proponents of the change said they welcomed the move, but that the policy remains insufficient.
“We view this as a first step to full inclusion,” Zach Wahls, executive director of Scouts for Equality, said at a news conference in Grapevine. “For me, this resolution clearly doesn’t go far enough, but there is no doubt that for young men all over the country, this is a validation of who they are and an important testament to the ability of scouting to reconsider its position.”
In the 2000 case Boy Scouts of America v. James Dale, the U.S. Supreme Court declared in a 5-4 ruling that the Boy Scouts of America was within its rights to set its own membership standards, including whether or not gay youths can be admitted into the organization.
Gay rights activists have since been lobbying the Boy Scouts of America to change its policy, and have pressured corporations who give financial support to the organization.
According to the organization’s website, there are more than 2.6 million youth and 1 million adult members in the Boy Scouts of America. Catholic parishes and organizations across the country operate more than 8,300 scouting units, including the Cub Scouts, Boy Scouts and Varsity Scouts.
The Boy Scouts of America was incorporated on Feb. 8, 1910, and chartered by Congress in 1916. Its stated mission is to provide an educational program for boys and young adults to build character, to train in the responsibilities of participating citizenship, and to develop personal fitness.