Boy Scouts Lift Ban on Gay Scouts, But Not on Leaders

Your News Companion by Ben Mathis-Lilley
May 23 2013 6:27 PM

Boy Scouts Lift Ban on Gay Scouts, But Not on Leaders

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Members of Scouts for Equality hold a rally to call for equality and inclusion for gays in the Boy Scouts of America as part of the 'Scouts for Equality Day of Action' May 22, 2013 in Washington, DC

Photo by Win McNamee/Getty Images

UPDATE: It's a done deal. The Boy Scouts of America's national council on Thursday approved the plan to allow openly gay boys to join the group, while keeping the ban on openly gay adults serving as Scout leaders in place. According to the Associated Press, more than 60 percent of the local Scout leaders who voted at the meeting backed the compromise proposal.

Josh Voorhees Josh Voorhees

Josh Voorhees is a Slate senior writer. He lives in Iowa City. 

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Original Post 10:42 a.m.: Boy Scout leaders from around the country are set to vote today on a proposal that would finally allow openly gay children to take part in the organization, ending months of internal debate and public speculation about the issue. The deal on the table, however, would continue to bar openly gay adults from acting as leaders within the group, all but ensuring the larger fight will rage on.

Here's the New York Times with the scene from Grapevine, Texas, where the scouts are holding their national meeting this week:

In a secret ballot, more than 1,400 volunteer leaders from scouting’s 270 councils will accept or reject a proposal that has led to strident divisions and debate. The emotions were evident Wednesday outside the conference center here in a suburb of Dallas, where dozens of conservative Christians, many in scout uniforms, carried “no” signs and waved American flags. ...
Angry parents threatened to pull their sons out of scouting, saying they would never let them share a tent with a gay boy. Current and former Boy Scouts who want to end the exclusionary policy, including several who were forced out of scouting for being gay, gave their own news briefing.

Today's vote—which is expected to be close—comes more than three months after the group's announcement that it was considering lifting its decades-long policy of banning gay scouts and scout leaders from its ranks. (The specific policy that was floated in January would have eliminated the ban from the national organization's rules, but would still allow local chapters to continue to ban gays.) That statement turned what was already a hot-button issue into a front page story, with President Obama speaking out in favor of the change and Texas Gov. Rick Perry and other conservatives weighing in against it. The following week, however, the group put the decision on hold while it weighed its options.

If the group ultimately goes through with the change, it would mark a rather major reversal in a relatively short period of time. It was only last July that national Boy Scouts officials affirmed the ban, calling it "the best policy for the organization." The current compromise on the table is designed to appease both those deep-pocketed donors who have worked to end the ban, and those conservative groups hoping to keep it in place. Still, given the current deal addresses only half of the issue—scouts but not leaders—it's hard to imagine it ending the larger debate whether it passes or not.