As the national executive board of the Boy Scouts of America is expected to discuss, and possibly vote on, its strict no-gays member policy this week, President Barack Obama for the first time addressed the issue, saying the BSA should allow gays to be members and leaders.
Obama called for an end to the ban on gays during a "Super Bowl" pre-game interview with CBS anchor Scott Pelley on Sunday. Asked if scouting should be open to gays, Obama gave a one-word reply, "Yes." When Pelley asked him to elaborate, the president said, "I think that my attitude is that gays and lesbians should have access and opportunity the same way everybody else does in every institution and walk of life."
This doesn't come as a surprise given that the president last year publicly supported the right of same-sex couples to marry. The White House also said last year that Obama does not agree with BSA's ban on gay members.
The president spoke for inclusion of gays in scouting on the day churches across the nation celebrated Scout Sunday. "Scout Sunday is an opportunity to celebrate the anniversary of the beginning of the Scouting program and for the Scouting family to recognize the contributions of young people and adults to Scouting," Deron Smith, BSA's Director of Public Relations, told The Christian Post in an earlier emailed statement. "We encourage our chartered organizations and members to commemorate this date and Scouting's commitment to 'Duty to God.'"
Obama's public support for gays comes the day after Texas Gov. Rick Perry called on the Boy Scouts to keep its no-gays membership policy. "Hopefully the board will follow their historic position of keeping the Scouts strongly supportive of the values that make scouting this very important and impactful organization," said Perry, an Eagle Scout, at the Texas Scouts' 64th annual Report to State in the House chambers at the Texas State Capitol in Austin on Saturday. "I think most people see absolutely no reason to change the position and neither do I."
Seven months after reaffirming that it "remains in the best interest of Scouting" to keep its 102-year-old membership policy intact, BSA leaders are expected to reconsider the issue at their three-day meeting, which begins Monday in Irving, Texas.
For most churches and Christians, it's a serious issue. Fred Luter, president of the Southern Baptist Convention, has said that many SBC churches will likely cease their sponsorship of local Boy Scout troops if the policy is changed. "A lot of them will just pull out," Luter told Baptist Press last week. "This is just something we don't believe in. It's unfortunate the Boy Scouts are making this decision."
The Boy Scouts' top executives earlier met with top leaders at the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, the Catholic Church and the Southern Baptist Convention, among others, over the last few weeks to inform them of the possibility of this policy shift.
"The policy change under discussion would allow the religious, civic, or educational organizations that oversee and deliver Scouting to determine how to address this issue," the Boy Scouts told CP in an email message recently. "The Boy Scouts would not, under any circumstances, dictate a position to units, members, or parents. Under this proposed policy, the BSA would not require any chartered organization to act in ways inconsistent with that organization's mission, principles, or religious beliefs."
The BSA is considering the policy change despite it being legal for them to retain their policy on homosexuals.
In 2000, the U.S. Supreme Court, in Boy Scouts of America v Dale, ruled that the group had the constitutional right to "freedom of association" – allowing it and other groups to exclude persons from membership when "the presence of that person affects in a significant way the group's ability to advocate public or private viewpoints." The ruling was clear that the organization's opposition to homosexuality is part of the BSA's "expressive message" and allowing homosexuals as adult leaders would run in opposition to that message.
CP had earlier asked the BSA what is prompting the organization to consider such a change. Smith said it was "a result of dialogue within the Scouting family." "Scouting's policy caused some volunteers and chartered organizations which oversee and deliver the program, to act in conflict with their missions, principles or religious beliefs."
Dr. John Eastman, a constitutional law professor at Chapman University and Chairman of the Board of the National Organization for Marriage, says on his blog that the Boy Scouts is a major corporation, with revenues in 2010 of more than a quarter billion dollars, and has 3,771 employees with the chief executives getting lucrative salaries.
"So, when members of the national board, CEOs of major corporations like AT&T and Ernst & Young, start pressuring the executives at the national office… someone with his own million dollar salary at risk might, just might, have a personal stake at odds with the Boy Scout's long-standing policy against interjecting homosexuality into a youth organization," writes Eastman.