WASHINGTON -- President Barack Obama said yesterday that gays should be allowed in the Boy Scouts and women should be allowed in military combat roles, weighing in on two storied American institutions facing proposals to end long-held exclusions.
The president's comments in a pre-Super Bowl interview on CBS come before this week's meeting of the Boy Scouts' national executive board. A proposal to open up the Scouts' membership to gays is expected to be discussed and possibly voted on.
The Boy Scouts reaffirmed the no-gays policy just seven months ago, but said last week they were considering changing the stance. Instead of mandatory exclusion of gays, the different religious and civic groups that sponsor Scout units would be able to decide for themselves whether to maintain the exclusion or open up their membership.
Last August, the White House said in a statement that Obama opposed the gay ban. Obama, like presidents for the last century, serves as honorary president of the group. The president's comment yesterday was his first since the group announced it was considering a policy change.
"My attitude is that gays and lesbians should have access and opportunity the same way everybody else does in every institution and walk of life," Obama said.
Obama also had previously issued a statement backing the Pentagon's decision in January to open up front-line combat jobs to women, but the interview included his first publicly spoken comments on the matter since the announcement. He said women are already serving in combat "as a practical matter."
"When they're in theater in places like Iraq and Afghanistan, they are vulnerable," he said. "They are wounded, and they've been killed. And they have carried out their jobs with extraordinary patriotism and distinction."