The Boy Scouts of America’s national president, Robert Gates, said Thursday that the organization’s longstanding ban on openly gay adults serving as leaders is unsustainable and called for a change in policy to deter potential lawsuits, The Associated Press reports.
“The status quo in our movement’s membership standards cannot be sustained,” Gates said during a speech at the Boy Scouts’ annual meeting in Atlanta. Though no official changes would me made at that meeting, Gates suggested revising the policy soon.
Gates — the former U.S. defense secretary — initially called for an end to the ban when he began his tenure as president in May 2014, but he quelled further conversation after the Scouts’ policymaking body upheld the rule. His new remarks, however, come on the heels of a decision made by the BSA’s New York chapter to hire the first openly gay Eagle Scout as a summer camp leader.
“I remind you of the recent debates we have seen in places like Indiana and Arkansas over discrimination based on sexual orientation, not to mention the impending U.S. Supreme Court decision this summer on gay marriage,” Gates said. “We must deal with the world as it is, not as we might wish it to be.”
Gates’ new stance on the issue seemed motivated less by a desire to foster acceptance and equality, and more to avoid a lengthy legal battle that could potentially threaten the Scouts’ autonomy. (He reportedly also said that a court order could force the Boy Scouts to nix their ban on atheists.)
Moreover, the ban would only be struck down as national policy; individual units — 70 percent of which are sponsored by churches — would still be allowed to hire and fire based on their own leadership criteria, including faith.
“Waiting for the courts is a gamble with huge stakes,” Gates said. “Alternatively, we can move at some future date — but sooner rather than later — to seize control of our own future, set our own course and change our policy in order to allow charter partners — unit sponsoring organizations — to determine the standards for their Scout leaders.”
Though not a swift blow to discrimination, Gates’ comments mark yet another step for the Boy Scouts, whose ban of gay men and boys was upheld by the Supreme Court in a 5-4 decision in 2000. In 2013, however, the organization partially altered its policy and began allowing openly gay youth.
The Girl Scouts, on the other hand, have had a longstanding policy of including LGBT members and leaders. Earlier this week, news outlets reported that the organization was welcoming transgender girls as well — though that policy has now been on the books for four years.