The Boy Scouts of America on Thursday ended its ban on openly gay youth but maintained one on adult leaders, a decision framed as a compromise but one experts said may eventually lead to litigation and thousands of defections from one of America’s largest youth organizations.
The immediate impact of the governing body’s vote was hard to predict. Some of the Scouts’ largest stakeholders, including the Mormon and Catholic churches, reiterated in recent weeks their opposition to same-sex relationships, but some appeared open to staying in Scouting with a wait-and-see approach as a way to keep youth — including gay youth — involved in a popular, wholesome program.
Some individual troops said they’d leave and earlier Scout research has predicted many exits. The bishop of the Catholic diocese of Arlington, in Northern Virginia, issued a statement Thursday evening saying the vote “would likely force us to reconsider” staying in scouting.
Last summer, the Scouts reaffirmed its desire to keep out openly gay boys and adult volunteers, a policy the Supreme Court upheld in 2000. But the escalating pressure from families and major donors in the past year forced the Scouts to act.
“If you want to understand these decisions, you have to understand the Boy Scouts is first and primarily a business. It has been all along,” said Jay Mechling, a retired University of California, Davis professor and author of ‘On My Honor: Boy Scouts and the Making of American Youth.’ Scout officials have said the majority of their corporate and nonprofit partners wanted a change in the previous policy.
A February Boy Scout Poll showed a deeply divided Scouting community. A majority of teen Scouts opposed the longstanding ban on gay males (youth and adults) and said it “does not represent a core value of Scouting.” A broad poll of all members showed 61 percent supported the ban on gays.