Fifteen years after the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that the Boy Scouts of America have the right to discriminate on the basis of sexual orientation, the organization’s leadership has voted to repeal its national ban on gay and lesbian adult volunteers and staff.
According to Scouts for Equality executive director Zach Wahls, the vote by the organization’s executive board was 45 in favor, 12 against on Monday. Two weeks ago, the executive committee had unanimously recommended the move, after national president and former U.S. Secretary of Defense Robert Gates declared the longstanding ban unsustainable.
Under the new rules, the national organization and local Scout councils will not be permitted to discriminate on the basis of sexual orientation against youth or adults. The local religious groups that “charter” 70 percent of troops will be allowed to make their own determinations about whether to allow gay and lesbian adult volunteers and leaders — the non-religious civic organizations and schools that charter the other 30 percent will not be allowed to discriminate against gay and lesbian adults.
The change falls short of making the organization fully inclusive — its ban on atheist Scouts and leaders continues and local troops may still discriminate against gay and lesbian adults — but ends the decades-long policy of mandatory discrimination and exclusion.
Watch the announcement:
In his statement, Gates said: “For far too long, this issue has divided and distracted us. Now it’s time to unite behind our shared belief in the extraordinary power of Scouting to be a force for good in the community and in the lives of youth members.”
Scouts for Equality hailed the vote as an “imperfect” policy, but “ the beginning of a new chapter for the Boy Scouts of America.”
The Mormon Church released a statement Monday suggesting it was reconsidering its long-standing relationship with the Boy Scouts of America because of this vote:
The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is deeply troubled by today’s vote by the Boy Scouts of America National Executive Board. In spite of a request to delay the vote, it was scheduled at a time in July when members of the Church’s governing councils are out of their offices and do not meet. When the leadership of the Church resumes its regular schedule of meetings in August, the century-long association with Scouting will need to be examined. The Church has always welcomed all boys to its Scouting units regardless of sexual orientation. However, 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.
As a global organization with members in 170 countries, the Church has long been evaluating the limitations that fully one-half of its youth face where Scouting is not available. Those worldwide needs combined with this vote by the BSA National Executive Board will be carefully reviewed by the leaders of the Church in the weeks ahead.
This post has been updated to clarify that only religious-affiliated chartering groups will be permitted to discriminate against gay and lesbian adults.