By David Crary
IRVING, Texas — Caught in an ideological crossfire, the Boy Scouts of America is putting off until May a decision on whether to ease its policy of excluding gays. Whatever the organization eventually does, it’s likely to anger major constituencies and worsen schisms within Scouting.
The delay, which the Scouts attributed to “the complexity of this issue,” was announced Wednesday after closed-door deliberations by the BSA’s national executive board. Under consideration was a proposal to ease the longstanding ban on gays by allowing sponsors of local troops to decide for themselves on the membership of gay Scouts and adult leaders.
As the board met over three days at a hotel near Dallas, it became clear that the proposal would be unacceptable to large numbers of impassioned Scouting families and advocacy groups on both the left and right.
The iconic youth organization is now deeply entangled in the broader cultural and political conflicts over such issues as same-sex marriage and religious freedom. Tilting toward either side will probably alienate the other, and a midway balancing act will be difficult.
Gay-rights supporters contend that no Scout units anywhere should exclude gays, and vowed to maintain pressure on the BSA’s corporate donors to achieve that goal. Some conservatives, including religious leaders whose churches sponsor troops, warned of mass defections if the ban were even partially eased. They urged supporters to flood headquarters with phone calls.
“In the past two weeks, Scouting has received an outpouring of feedback from the American public,” said the BSA’s national spokesman, Deron Smith. “It reinforces how deeply people care about Scouting and how passionate they are about the organization.”
The BSA “needs time for a more deliberate review of its membership policy,” Smith added. He said the board would prepare a resolution to be voted on by the 1,400 voting members of the BSA national council at a meeting during the week of May 20 in Grapevine, Texas.
The organization had announced last week that it was considering allowing Scout troops to decide whether to allow gay membership, ensuring that the executive board meeting would be in the national spotlight.
Learning that a decision would be deferred, gay-rights leaders assailed the BSA.
“Every day that the Boy Scouts of America delay action is another day that discrimination prevails,” said Chad Griffin, president of the Human Rights Campaign. “Young Americans, gay and straight, are hurt by the inaction associated with today’s news.”
“A Scout is supposed to be brave, and the Boy Scouts failed to be brave today,” said Jennifer Tyrrell, an Ohio mother ousted as a den leader of her son’s Cub Scout pack because she’s a lesbian.
Tyrrell was among several current and former Scouts and supporters who rallied outside BSA national headquarters Monday and delivered petitions opposing the policy.
Conservative leaders made clear they would keep pressure on the BSA ahead of the May meeting.
Tony Perkins of the Family Research Council said his group would continue warning the BSA “about the grave consequences that would result if they were to compromise their moral standards in the face of threats from corporate elites and homosexual activists.”
About 70 percent of all Scout units are sponsored by religious denominations, including many by conservative faiths that have supported the ban, including the Roman Catholic Church, the Southern Baptist Convention and the Mormon church.
Members of the Scouts’ executive board remained silent about their deliberations during and after their meeting. Police and security guards blocked journalists from entering the meeting area, and board members approached as they walked to their cars outside the hotel declined to comment. However, it’s likely the board will face continued pressure.
By delaying the vote, the Scouts “have guaranteed continuing controversy and increased pressures on corporate sponsors to withdraw funding,” said professor Kenneth Sherrill, a gay rights advocate who teaches political science at Hunter College in New York.
“Now that the armed forces ban on openly gay service members has been lifted, and polls show increasing acceptance of same-sex marriage, most American voters think it’s time to open up the Boy Scouts, too,” said Peter Brown, assistant director of Quinnipiac’s Polling Institute.