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Robert Gates, the Boy Scouts of America’s national president, is urging the group’s leaders to change its policy barring gay men from holding leadership positions.
“We must deal with the world as it is, not as we might wish it to be,” he said Thursday at the organization’s national meeting in Atlanta. “The status quo in our movement’s membership standards cannot be sustained.”
Though Gates did not call the lifting of the ban to a vote, he proposed changing the policy “sooner rather than later” to allow each scouting unit to determine its leadership standards. He explained the reasoning behind the proposal:
Such an approach would allow all churches, which sponsor some 70 percent of our scout units, to establish leadership standards consistent with their faith. We must, at all costs, preserve the religious freedom of our church partners to do this.
Gates’ remarks—along with his insistence on religious freedom for church partners—prompted replies from one of those partners, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (the organization’s largest national sponsor).
The LDS church “will, of course, examine any such changes very carefully to assess how they might impact our own century-long association with the BSA,” spokesman Eric Hawkins wrote in an emailed statement, according to The Salt Lake Tribune.
Gates warned the Boy Scouts of America’s leaders that time would run out on making a decision.
“We can act on our own or we can be forced to act,” Gates said, “but either way, I suspect we don’t have a lot of time.”
Gates also said waiting for a decision might bring negative impacts upon the organization, especially considering the beliefs on which it was founded:
If we wait for the courts to act, we could end up with a broad ruling that could forbid any kind of membership standard, including our foundational belief in our duty to God and our focus on serving the specific needs of boys. Waiting for the courts is a gamble with huge stakes.
Though Gates merely proposed that the organization lift the ban on appointing gay leaders in its scouting units, Gates said he would not revoke the charters of scouting councils in several states that either stood “in open defiance of the policy” or that took a position in mission statements and public documents “contrary to the national policy.”
“This is another step forward for the Boy Scouts of America,” Zach Walhs, executive director for Scouts for Equality, wrote on the organization’s blog. “I’m proud to see Dr. Gates charting a course toward full equality in the BSA. While our work won’t be done until we see a full end to their ban on gay adults once and for all, today’s decision moves the Boy Scouts in that direction.”
Though the online community is voicing its opinions on both sides of Gates’ statements on Twitter, New York Mayor Bill de Blasio tweeted in firm support of lifting the ban:
Brands are also likely to come forward in support of the proclamation. The Boy Scouts of America lifted the ban on gay scout membership with a 60 percent vote in 2013, but companies such as Lockheed Martin, Major League Soccer, Disney, Merck, Intel and UPS pulled sponsorships when the ban against gay leadership remained in force.