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Boy Scouts, prepared
The Boy Scouts propose to let sponsors decide whether to open their doors to openly gay Scouts and leaders

Date published: 2/3/2013

THE BOY SCOUTS of America are proposing to ease their ban on participation by openly gay Scouts and adult leaders. This is welcome news that aligns with recent ballot measures and opinion polls that show Americans becoming more tolerant on gay rights, gay marriage, gay parenting, and other such issues.

Taking a safe and perhaps interim approach, the organization says it would leave it to local sponsoring groups to decide whether they'll welcome or turn away gay members or leaders. This may help satisfy sponsors who reject any gay participation on religious grounds. They are not being required to do anything. Yet an official with the Southern Baptist Convention claimed the Boy Scouts' action would "lead to a disintegration of faith-based values." That's alarmist. Further, dire predictions of a grand exodus of Scouts in light of a policy change seem equally far-fetched--although breakaway Scouting groups are a possibility. Just ask the mainline Protestant churches.

Gay-rights activists, on the other hand, may chide the Boy Scouts for leaving the discrimination door open by failing to require that all troops welcome everyone regardless of their sexual orientation. But it shouldn't be made impossible for sponsoring groups with strong religious convictions about the proper boundaries of human sexuality to stay involved with Scouting.

A changing cultural landscape has seen the ranks of Cub Scouts--the primary Boy Scout feeder--dwindle by nearly 30 percent since 1998. The last thing the organization wants to do is leave itself pigeonholed as an intolerant relic of times gone by while competing for boys' attention with youth sports teams, video games, and myriad after-school activities.

Moreover, the Boy Scouts' image continues to be tarnished by the release of its "perversion files," which revealed an organization-wide practice between 1947 and 2005 of covering up Scouts' claims of sexual abuse while allowing the leaders targeted by those allegations to slither away scot-free, often to resurface in other troops.

Ours is a complicated world, and the Boy Scouts, as much as they might wish otherwise, are not immune from its complexities. That they are thinking about a new policy on gays is a recognition of that reality.