In a decision that took two years to finalize, The Boy Scouts of America announced on July 27 it is lifting the ban on gay adult Scout troop leaders.
The new policy is aimed at ending the controversy that has put the organization in the forefront for the last several years, particularly as approval of same-sex marriage and civil rights continue to gain momentum in politics and policy-making.
“For far too long this issue has divided and distracted us,” said Robert Gates, BSA president and former U.S. Defense Secretary. “Now it’s time to unite behind our shared belief in the extraordinary power of Scouting to be a force for good.”
The decision, while praised by many, has also received criticism from gay rights groups and religious organizations. LGBT leaders say exemptions in the decision inhibit gays from advancing in the organization while religious leaders believe allowing gays as leaders of the BSA goes against the organization’s traditional philosophies.
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“Today’s vote by the Boy Scouts of America to allow gay, lesbian and bisexual adults to work and volunteer is a welcome step toward erasing a stain on this important organization,” Chad Griffin, the president of Human Rights Campaign, said in a statement. “But including an exemption for troops sponsored by religious organizations undermines and diminishes the historic nature of today’s decision. Discrimination should have no place in the Boy Scouts, period.”
The Mormon church, which is one of the BSA’s largest sponsors, said the decision left its leaders “deeply troubled,” reports The Associated Press.
“The admission of openly gay leaders is inconsistent with the doctrines of the Church and what have traditionally been the values of the Boy Scouts of America,” said a statement from the Mormon headquarters in Salt Lake City, Utah.
Gates originally called for the removal of the ban at the organization’s national business meeting on May 21, citing the country’s changing social beliefs as an indicator of what the BSA needs to do moving forward, CNN noted.
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“The status quo in our movement’s membership standards cannot be sustained,” Gates said. “Our oath calls upon us to do our duty to God and our country. The country is changing, and we are increasingly at odds with the legal landscape at both the state and federal levels.”
Membership in the Scouts has been on the decline for years, as well, sparking concern among organization leaders. AP reports current membership is about 2.4 million boys and 1 million girls.