A Boy Scouts of America proposal to admit gay boys as members while continuing to bar homosexual adults as leaders is not a good way to settle a longstanding controversy that has roiled the youth organization in recent months, a Los Angeles Scouts official says.
The proposal, recommended unanimously last week by the Boy Scouts' executive committee, would require 1,400 members of the group’s national council to choose between admitting gay children or no gays at all.
“We’re put in a very, very difficult place,” said David Meshulam, president of the Scouts’ Los Angeles Area Council, who will be among those voting next month. He likened it to “Sophie’s Choice,” the fictional account of a Polish woman forced to choose which of her two children to spare during the Holocaust.
A vote either way on the proposal would continue discrimination in one of America’s oldest and most traditional youth organizations, Meshulam said. As a result, his group, one of several major councils in Southern California, has proposed admitting anyone who meets Scouting’s standards.
“The focus should be on a person’s conduct, measured against BSA’s standards of conduct, not a person’s status as homosexual or heterosexual,” the proposal reads in part.
“In my heart, I know that it is absolutely vital that we include everybody,” Meshulam said in an interview, acknowledging that his views are not shared by all councils in his region, much less across the country.
The two proposals underscore the divisions in Scouting as it tries to come to terms with its policy on gays.
On Friday, top national Scouts officials described their proposal as an effort to acknowledge changes in society while respecting the religious organizations that sponsor many troops across the country.
“We believe the BSA can no longer sacrifice its mission, or the youth served by the movement, by allowing the organization to be consumed by a single, controversial and unresolved societal issue,” National President Wayne Perry said.
Though a dramatic shift from the Scouts' outright ban on gays, the proposal left many on both sides of the debate unsatisfied. It follows months of intense pressure inside and outside the organization, whose leadership has sent mixed signals.
Many conservative groups and Scouting’s largest sponsors, including the Roman Catholic and Mormon churches and the Southern Baptist Convention, have opposed changing the current policy on gays.
Others top chartering groups, including the United Methodist Church, have urged the Scouts to lift the ban.
The U.S. Supreme Court upheld the Scouts' policy in 2000, but it has continued to draw opposition. Petitions against the ban have drawn more than 1.6 million signatures, according to the Scouts for Equality website.
In January, word leaked out that the Scouts might retreat from the ban and allow local groups to decide. A week later, however, the organization’s national board, buffeted by the furor that erupted, postponed a vote until May.
Since then, Scouting has conducted more than 250 town hall meetings across the country and polled more than 1 million members, according to a statement issued Friday.
Support for the gay ban among parents has dropped from 57% three years ago to 48% today, the Scouts found. A majority of youth in Scouting oppose the ban and say the policy does not represent a core value of Scouting, the survey found.
Support for the ban remains strong among much of Scouting's volunteer leadership and the organizations that charter local units, survey results showed. Major local donors are closely divided on the question, while most Fortune 500 companies that financially support the organization favor a policy change.