IRVING, Texas — Boy Scouts of America officials are expected to announce Wednesday whether they will lift a national ban on gay leaders and members, instead giving local scouting groups the power to decide.
The Scouts' national board, which has been meeting near its headquarters outside Dallas since Monday, is expected to vote on the issue. Spokesmen would not discuss the timetable.
The Boy Scouts reaffirmed the ban in July after a two-year internal review, but officials announced last week that they would take up the issue again.
Either way, the decision will be controversial. Over the weekend, Texas Gov. Rick Perry, an Eagle Scout who wrote a book about scouting, defended the ban. And opponents of changing the policy planned to protest outside Scout headquarters in Irving on Wednesday morning.
“The homosexual lobby is trying to get the Boy Scouts to change their policy — they’re constantly being attacked and bullied,” one of the protest organizers, Jonathan Saenz, told the Los Angeles Times. “A lot of people are concerned the Boy Scouts’ image will be tarnished.”
Saenz, president of the Austin-based conservative advocacy group Texas Values, noted that about 70% of Boy Scout groups are hosted by churches and other faith-based groups, including the Catholic and Mormon churches.
“A lot of those faith groups do not agree with the homosexual lifestyle and will pull out” of scouting if the policy changes, he said.Under a U.S. Supreme Court decision a decade ago, Boy Scouts of America vs. Dale, the Scouts were allowed to exclude gays because admitting them ran counter to their core values as a private organization.
“A core conviction is a core conviction. A core conviction of the Boy Scouts for over 100 years has been defining being ‘morally straight’ as heterosexual,” Richard Land, president of the Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission of the Southern Baptist Convention, told The Times. “Once you abandon that, you’ve lost your legal protection. Once you say it’s a local option, it’s obviously not a core conviction anymore and you open yourself to litigation.”
But Marc Poirier, a professor at Seton Hall University School of Law who has studied the Boy Scouts, said allowing local troops or councils to choose whether to admit gays wouldn’t necessarily undermine the Dale decision.
“The big deal will be if the Latter-day Saints and the Catholics walk, which they threatened to do 10 years ago,” Poirier told The Times.
Although church-affiliated troops could still refuse to allow gay leaders and members, he said, the churches still might oppose a new policy.
“If the Catholics or the Mormons or the Southern Baptists are offended, it’s because they can no longer say the Boy Scouts as a whole means X,” Poirier said. But, he added, “The Boy Scouts are making a calculation — their membership is dwindling.”
Since 2000, the scouting ranks have decreased by nearly 19%, according to Boy Scouts of America figures from 2011, the most recent available.
The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, which sponsors more troops than any other faith group, had not released a statement ahead of the Boy Scout’s decision, a spokesman told The Times.
The National Catholic Committee on Scouting saw debate erupt on its Facebook page this week. In response, it posted a statement from Bishop Robert Guglielmone of Charleston, S.C., and the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops.
“It is premature to discuss the ramifications of the proposed change in the policy of the Boy Scouts of America concerning homosexuals in the organization. The decision has not yet been made by BSA. As Catholics, we expect that any changes in policy will continue to respect the values and traditions that the Catholic Church holds with regards to membership and leadership in scout units," the statement said.
A spokeswoman for the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops did not return calls from The Times.
Supporters of eliminating the ban dropped off a Change.org petition at Boy Scout headquarters Monday apparently signed by 1.4 million people who want to see scouting opened to gays.
Two members of the Boy Scouts’ board have already said they support changing the policy: Randall L. Stephenson, chairman and chief executive of AT&T, and James S. Turley, chairman and chief executive of Ernst & Young. President Obama weighed in over the weekend, urging Boy Scout leaders to admit gays.
“We’re living in a really different culture than when Dale was considered,” said Rich Ferraro, a New York-based spokesman for the Gay & Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation. “It’s interesting that this change is not coming from the courts; it’s coming from people involved in scouting.”
If the ban is reversed, he said, “I don’t think you're going to see a mass exodus — we didn’t see that when the Girl Scouts announced they were going to allow transgender people” or when the U.S. military did away with “don’t ask, don’t tell.”
“You saw a stronger U.S. military, and that’s what we’re going to see with the Scouts,” Ferraro said. “The Scouts were on a path where they were becoming known as a discriminatory organization. They need to learn how to train their local executives on gay and lesbian issues, similarly to how the U.S. military trained people after ‘don’t ask, don’t tell’ was reversed.”
Among those who stand to benefit if the ban is lifted: Jen Tyrrell, 33, a lesbian Tiger Cub leader who was ousted last year. The Bridgeport, Ohio, woman was among those presenting the petition to scouting leaders Monday.
“The fact that they’re thinking about [ending the ban] is a huge step,” Tyrrell told The Times. “The Boy Scouts have lost a ton of members recently because of this ban. Ultimately, we would love for them to adopt a policy of no discrimination. This is a first step; we are grateful for it.”