After years of outside pressure and legal challenges — including before the Supreme Court — the Boy Scouts of America is "actively considering an end to its decades-long policy of banning gay scouts or scout leaders," says Pete Williams at NBC News. If the iconic youth organization takes the plunge, it may announce the change as soon as next week, after a regularly scheduled national board meeting. The BSA wouldn't require that all regional councils or individual troops allow gay members and leaders; the change would just give them the option to do so. Still, that's a sharp reversal for the organization, which affirmed its no-gays policy just seven months ago, following a two-year review. What's behind the possible about-face? Here, five theories:
1. The ban is anachronistic
Since 2000, when the Supreme Court affirmed the BSA's right to exclude gay members, there's been a pretty seismic cultural and political shift. President Obama not only made a big plug for gay rights in his second inaugural address, but both he and GOP rival Mitt Romney said during the 2012 presidential campaign that the Boy Scouts should allow gay scouts and leaders. "The Girl Scouts, 4H Clubs, and the U.S. military are fully inclusive," Rich Ferraro of the Gay and Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation (GLAAD) tells USA Today, "and that's what we need from the Boy Scouts of America." Many conservatives "will strenuously object to what the BSA is doing," says Rick Moran at the PJ Tattler. But if "one of the most outwardly conservative organizations in the country" opens the door to homosexuals, that just "reflects the beginnings of a profound change in America."
2. The BSA is caving to gay-rights activists
GLAAD, the Human Rights Campaign, and other gay-rights groups have been pressuring the Boy Scouts to change its policy for years, and if it appears to give in now, the Scouts should probably prepare for "counter-boycotts by more socially conservative organizations," says Allahpundit at Hot Air, including some of the 70 percent of troops affiliated with churches and religious organizations. The Southern Baptist Convention is already warning against allowing gay members, and Tony Perkins, president of the Family Research Council, says it will be "a serious mistake" if the BSA board "capitulates to the bullying of homosexual activists."
3. Its membership is demanding the change
It really will be "a huge cultural domino to tumble if the ban is actually lifted," says Scott Shackford at Reason, but it will also be "a huge civil liberties win pursued not through the government, but through voluntary cultural engagement." The Boy Scouts is touting this as a response to Scouting grassroots, and that's right: Outside activists failed to change the organization through the courts and government fiat, but "when more and more people who make up your organization tell you you're out of step, you might start to listen."
4. The organization is losing too much money from the ban
The BSA is saying the change is "to accommodate individual members," but that's also what the group said when it affirmed its ban on gay members, says Andrew Rosenthal at The New York Times. So "something tells me that money has more to do with this change of heart than principles." In November, UPS pulled its backing from the BSA due to its discriminatory policy, and it wasn't alone. Yes, this decision is, "like everything else, a financial one," says Robert Kessler at Gawker. Bluntly speaking, "lifting the ban is just a means of self-preservation." It's not quite that simple, says Dana Liebelson at Mother Jones. While "at least four big funders" have withdrawn support, "the Catholic and Mormon churches are some of the Scouts' biggest backers," and they won't be thrilled with the new policy.
5. The BSA is merely taking the easy way out
"There is a dark lining to this cloud" for gay-rights supporters, too, says Jon Green at AmericaBlog. Even if the BSA drops its ban, it's still "letting local troops discriminate against gay scouts and gay troop leaders." That the organization "is kicking the decision down to the troop level, rather than simply ending the policy of discrimination outright, is a shame but hardly surprising," says James Joyner at Outside the Beltway. "Major pockets of the country" still believe, despicably, that "gays are somehow predators who can't be trusted with young boys." It would be nice if the Scouts set itself as "an example for the rest of the country," but punting on the gay issue "is the safest way forward."
THE WEEK'S AUDIOPHILE PODCASTS: LISTEN SMARTER
- How our botched understanding of 'science' ruins everything
- How to be the most productive person in your office — and still get home by 5:30 p.m.
- Mike Huckabee's head-scratching advice to Christian voters
- 43 TV shows to watch in 2014
- The science of sex: 4 harsh truths about dating and mating
- 6 things the happiest families all have in common
- How Scotland's independence movement lost the vote and still won everything
- Adrian Peterson and our misguided debate about spanking
- What would a U.S.-Russia war look like?
- Why so many Christians won't back down on gay marriage
Subscribe to the Week