Boy Scouts of America Lifts Ban on Gay Adult Leaders

The Boy Scouts of America has announced that its national executive board has voted to lift the organization's ban on openly gay and bisexual adult leaders and employees, effective immediately.

In a 45-12 vote, the 71-member board adopted a resolution (12 pages, PDF) that its executive committee, in a unanimous vote earlier this month, recommended for ratification. The new policy does not require individual units to allow gay adult leaders; instead, chartered BSA units, including those sponsored by churches, will be allowed to select adult leaders based on their own criteria, including sexual orientation.

"For far too long this issue has divided and distracted us," said BSA president Robert M. Gates, who earlier this year called for the issue to be resolved. "Now it's time to unite behind our shared belief in the extraordinary power of Scouting to be a force for good."

"While we still have some reservations about individual units discriminating against gay adults, we couldn’t be more excited about the future of Scouting," said Scouts for Equality executive director Zach Wahls. "We look forward to collaborating with our supporters, progressive faith partners, allied nonprofit organizations, and the Boy Scouts of America to ensure a fully inclusive Scouting movement."

Some churches, however, have suggested they may leave the Scouting movement over the vote. For example, the Mormon Church, which sponsors more Boy Scout units that any other church or organization, said in a statement that its "century-long association with Scouting will need to be examined" as a result of the change. "The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is deeply troubled by today's vote," the church said in a statement. "[T]he 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." 

Some conservative evangelical churches ended ties with BSA after its 2013 decision to admit openly gay youths as members. And more religious conservatives are likely to leave as a result of the change in the policy, Russell D. Moore, president of the Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission of the Southern Baptist Convention, told the New York Times. "After the Scouts' shift on membership, they told religious groups this wouldn't affect leadership," said Moore. "Now churches are told that these changes will not affect faith-based groups. Churches know that this is the final word only until the next evolution."

By contrast, the National Catholic Committee on Scouting, which does not speak for the Catholic Church but acts as a liaison with BSA, has urged Catholic churches to continue sponsoring troops. "While this fluctuating situation will be increasingly challenging, we recognize the vital importance of providing a Catholic emphasis to Catholic Scouts and Scouters seeking ways to live out their 'duty to God'." the committee said in a statement. "We also recognize the increasing need for the Catholic Church to offer Scouting as a program of youth ministry. Chartering Scout units will ensure that youth within their faith communities are led by faith-filled role models who share the same interests in Scouting."

"Boy Scouts of America Amends Adult Leadership Policy." Boy Scouts of America Press Release 07/27/2015. Erik Eckholm. "Catholic Panel Urges Churches to Continue Sponsoring Scout Troops." New York Times 07/28/2015. Erik Eckholm. "Boy Scouts End Ban on Gay Leaders, Over Protests by Mormon Church" New York Times 07/27/2015. "BSA Executive Board Votes to End National Ban on Gay Adults." Scouts for Equality Press Release 07/27/2015.