New Boy Scouts President Robert Gates: I Would've Backed Gay Scout Leaders, But Issue Is Settled

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May 24 2014 5:12 PM

New Boy Scouts President Robert Gates: I Would've Backed Gay Scout Leaders, But Issue Is Settled

185588269-former-us-defense-secretary-robert-gates-listens-during
Former US Defense secretary Robert Gates listens during a forum discussion at the Johns Hopkins University School of Advanced International Studies on October 22, 2013

Photo by BRENDAN SMIALOWSKI/AFP/Getty Images

It didn’t take long for former Defense secretary Robert Gates to jump head-first into one of the most controversial issues facing the Boy Scouts of America. Gates was confirmed as president of the Boy Scouts on Thursday and on Friday told the Associated Press that he would have supported openly gay scout leaders, but he won’t reopen the discussion now. The man who was crucial in ending the don’t-ask-don’t-tell policy in the Pentagon said he respects the decision of the Boy Scouts to keep gay adults out of the organization.

"I was prepared to go further than the decision that was made," Gates said. "I would have supported having gay Scoutmasters, but at the same time, I fully accept the decision that was democratically arrived at by 1,500 volunteers from across the entire country." Last year, the Boy Scouts National Council voted to allow gay youths but not adults.

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At the Boy Scouts national annual meeting, Gates made it clear that he recognized it would not be good for the organization to revisit the decision. “In all candor, I would have supported going further, as I did in opening the way for gays to serve in the CIA and in the military,” he said in a speech. “Given the strong feelings — the passion — involved on both sides of this matter, I believe strongly that to reopen the membership issue or try to take last year's decision to the next step would irreparably fracture and perhaps even provoke a formal, permanent split in this movement — with the high likelihood neither side would subsequently survive on its own."

The important thing now, said Gates, is to make sure the Boy Scouts provides “a welcoming and safe environment for gay youth, a place where they can benefit from scouting and not face bullying or disrespect.”

Daniel Politi has been contributing to Slate since 2004 and wrote the "Today's Papers" column from 2006 to 2009. You can follow him on Twitter @dpoliti.

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