Scouts put off decision on gays

Kirk Johnson / New York Times News Service /


The Boy Scouts of America, which confirmed last summer its policy banning openly gay people from participation, then said last week that it was reconsidering the ban, announced Wednesday that it would postpone a decision once more — until May — as talk of gays in the ranks has roiled a storied organization that carries deep emotional connection and nostalgia for millions of Americans.

An end to the national ban on gays, which the U.S. Supreme Court said in 2000 was legal free speech by a private organization, would create a new moment of risk, experimentation and change, people on both sides of the issue said. The proposal floated last week would allow local scouting units to decide membership rules for themselves, a middle road.

Even proposing the change created fracture lines. Some supporters of the ban said they feared a wave of departures by conservative church-sponsored troops, while supporters of a new policy said the risk was in not going far enough — although each side acknowledged that scouting, with fewer boys every year wearing the tan uniform, needed to find new ways to connect with young people.

Those scout leaders who favored an about-face on gays — prohibiting discrimination everywhere in the organization — said local choice would leave scouting open to criticism because discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation would still be tolerated.

The Boy Scouts said in a statement that it had received “an outpouring of feedback from the American public.”

“After careful consideration,” the statement said, “and extensive dialogue within the scouting family, along with comments from those outside the organization, the volunteer officers of the Boy Scouts of America’s National Executive Board concluded that due to the complexity of this issue, the organization needs time for a more deliberate review.”

Poll asks: should they or shouldn’t they?

Quinnipiac University released a poll Wednesday that asked 1,772 registered voters whether gays should be allowed to participate in the Boy Scouts of America. The poll was conducted from Jan. 30 to Feb. 4, after the proposed change was announced by the Boy Scouts, and had a margin of sampling error of plus or minus 2 percentage points.

All voters: 55 percent in favor; 33 percent opposed

Men: 49 percent in favor; 39 percent opposed

Women: 61 percent in favor; 27 percent opposed