The Boy Scouts of America, reversing a course it had reiterated less than a year ago, has indicated that it is ready to bring to an end its nationwide ban on gays as scouts or leaders and that it will allow local troops to determine how to address the issue.
If the proposal is approved by the national executive board of the organization, it would represent yet another example of the swiftness of the acceptance of gay rights in the United States. The proposal is expected to be voted on by the board of the Scouts next week.
“The Boy Scouts would not, under any circumstances, dictate a position to units, members, or parents,” said Deron Smith, a spokesman for the Boy Scouts of America, in a statement.
“This would mean there would no longer be any national policy regarding sexual orientation, and the chartered organizations that oversee and deliver Scouting would accept membership and select leaders consistent with each organization’s mission, principles, or religious beliefs.”
Many African-Americans recall the days when the organization had separate-but-equal troops in the south in the era of segregation. The Boy Scouts, a private organization, eventually would extend into urban areas where the Scouts has become a significant youth program.
Indeed, the response of African-American troops will be closely watched, particularly because many are affiliated with churches — around 70 percent of Boy Scout troops nationally. Also, leaders of many African-American churches have been outspoken in their opposition to various gay rights initiatives, especially same-sex marriage.
The proposal comes after the U.S. Supreme Court affirmed in 2000 the right of the Boy Scouts to refuse gay members in the organization and seven months after it restated its opposition to gay scouts and leaders.
"The pulse of equality is strong in America, and today it beats a bit faster with news that the Boy Scouts may finally put an end to its long history of discrimination," said Chad Griffin of the Human Rights Campaign, a major gay-rights group.
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(Photo: AP Photo/LM Otero)