History could be made Thursday as the Boy Scouts of America meet to take a vote that could change one of the organization's most controversial stances. Over 1,400 delegates are gathering in Grapevine, Texas to vote if the Boy Scouts will drop their controversial ban on openly gay scouts.
The Boy Scouts' discriminatory policies have come under fire in recent years and the organization has struggled to deal with the barrage of criticism coming from outside the organization and inside it. Even though the policy itself could change with Thursday’s vote, the debate within the Boy Scouts is unlikely to end soon.
The Boy Scouts currently have a complete and total ban on openly gay children and adults participating in the organization’s activities. If individuals keep their sexual orientation a secret they can participate. Thursday’s vote would lift the ban on openly gay scouts but keep it in place for gay scout leaders. It would be implemented by January 1 of next year.
The Boy Scouts’ discriminatory policies have come under increasing fire. During the 2012 presidential election one of the few things Mitt Romney and Barack Obama could agree on was that the ban should be lifted. Bill Gates, former Microsoft CEO and former Boy Scout, said the ban should be lifted, "because it’s 2013."
Both the pro- and anti-gay sides have been attempting to make their voices heard. Supporters of the change managed to get 1.86 million signatures on a petition. Opponents of the change only mustered up 18,724 signatures.
Wayne Perry, the president of Boy Scouts of America, penned an editorial in USA Today in advance of the upcoming vote. He endorsed the change, saying, "That's the right decision for Boy Scouts," and called upon voters to end the ban.
The other major scouting organization in the United States, the Girl Scouts of the United States of America, does not have a ban on openly gay scouts or scout leaders. The official policy of the Girl Scouts states that they "value diversity and inclusiveness and, therefore, do not discriminate on any basis."
According to recent findings, a majority of current Boy Scouts (52%) do not support the current ban. This is a rise from three years ago, when only 43% of scouts opposed the current ban. Nationwide, 63% of Americans support allowing gay scouts with only 32% opposed. Every age group and both Republicans and Democrats have at least 50% supporting an end to the ban.
A major issue in the debate has been how religious organizations will react to any changes. Two major leaders in the Southern Baptist Church, Frank Page and Richard Land, wrote letters that pleaded with the Boy Scouts not to end the ban. However, the Church of Jesus Christ Latter Day Saints has given an implicit endorsement of the change. The Catholic Church has not taken a position. Critics fear that ending the ban could cause a mass exodus of religious scouts and sponsors.
As the vote approaches, it will not be the end of this discussion. Given that either way, the ban on gay scout leaders will stay in place, it is seen as the next logical target if the ban on gay scouts is lifted. Expect this debate to continue in the Boy Scouts for the foreseeable future.