Editorial: Boy Scouts should ban discrimination outright

Boy Scouts salute during New Jersey's Boy Scouts Boy Scouts salute during New Jersey's Boy Scouts Camporee in Sea Girt, N.J. Photo Credit: AP

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It's admirable that the Boy Scouts of America is considering softening the anti-gay membership ban it affirmed just months ago. But rather than half-stepping, the organization should reverse course entirely and prohibit the indefensible discrimination.

The private, national organization is weighing whether to drop the ban from its rules. If it does when the organization's executive board votes next week, local sponsors and troops would be freed to decide individually whether to admit gays or allow gay troop leaders.

The voluntary initiative to moderate the prohibition comes after the U.S. Supreme Court upheld the ban in 2000 as constitutionally protected freedom of association. But it also comes after some big corporate donors to its annual Jamboree declined to continue their sponsorship.

Allowing individual troops to continue to exclude gay members would send the message that anti-gay discrimination, even if no longer imposed from above, is acceptable. It isn't. The Boy Scouts of America should go the final mile and affirmatively bar discrimination. If the organization doesn't, then parents of Scouts and potential Scouts should consider whether they want their children to be affiliated with that prejudice.

Putting a nondiscrimination policy in place wouldn't be easy for the 103-year-old organization. About seven in 10 of its 109,000 scouting units -- Boy Scout troops, Cub Scout packs, Varsity Scout teams and Venturing crews -- are chartered by religious organizations, some of which oppose such a policy. But for an organization with 2.7 million impressionable members, and whose stated purpose is "to build character" and "train in the responsibilities of participating citizenship," it's the right thing to do.

It would also harmonize the values the group teaches with rapidly shifting public opinion, which helped end the ban on gays serving openly in the military and is also fueling growing acceptance and legal recognition of same-sex marriage.

The Boy Scouts is an iconic American institution. It should adopt the quintessential American ideal of equality.

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