Boy Scouts proposal: let in gay youth, keep out gay adults

Fri Apr 19, 2013 8:43pm EDT
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By Atossa Araxia Abrahamian

NEW YORK (Reuters) - The Boy Scouts of America on Friday proposed lifting a ban on gay scouts but maintaining a prohibition on gay adults from leading troops, a compromise that attempts to end a bitter split in the century-old American institution.

Reaction from scouting supporters ranged from outrage to limited approval. The biggest organization in scouts, the Mormon Church, said it was studying the proposal, leaving uncertain the outcome of a May vote by scout leaders that will set policy. Gay rights groups said continuing to bar gay adults was unacceptable, but they welcomed the change for youths.

The proposal would create a situation where a gay youth could become a scout and then be forced to resign when he becomes an adult.

"The general feeling is that this is a bad move," which could precipitate a major crisis, A. J. Smith, president of the Association of Baptists for Scouting, wrote in a website post, attempting to summarize Baptists' views against allowing gays into scouts. "This is about a concerted effort to bring down a cultural icon. We must brace ourselves for the long haul on this one."

The scouts' decision is a focal point of a heated gay rights debate in the United States, where polls show public opinion is fast moving toward greater acceptance and a core of social conservatives stridently oppose such change.

In the coming months, the Supreme Court will rule on whether to strike down parts of a federal law that defines marriage as the union between a man and a woman. In 2011, the military repealed a ban on openly gay soldiers.

Scout leaders in 2000 won a Supreme Court battle over the right to exclude gays. There are more than 2.6 million youth scouts and 1 million adults, and faith-based groups sponsor 70 percent of scout units.

The controversy has hurt Scouts' finances. Corporations including Merck & Co Inc, UPS Inc and Intel Corp have cut their contributions, saying they will not fund organizations which discriminate on the basis of sexual orientation.   Continued...

The statue of a scout stands in the entrance to Boy Scouts of America headquarters in Irving, Texas, February 5, 2013. REUTERS/Tim Sharp