In the face of serious progress from the Oval Office to the Pentagon, the half-measure proposed this week by the Boy Scouts of America to allow local chapters to determine if they allow openly gay Scouts and scoutmasters is imperfect. Nonetheless, it is progress and suggests even this venerable institution will eventually be freed from its long-standing and irrational bias.
Less than a year ago, national Scout leaders claimed banning gays from the organization was in the interest of the Scouts themselves. But now members of the Boy Scouts' national executive board are expected next week to discuss lifting the national ban on gay members — but still tolerating chapters that want to continue to discriminate.
That's an odd bargain for an organization that claims its mission is to instill character and maturity in young men to handle the realities of life. Ideally, next week's private discussion of the executive board will lead to the more logical conclusion: to lift the ban entirely and insist local chapters adhere to the change.
Because even with this change, the Boy Scouts would remain out of step in a diverse America, where old prejudices based on ignorance are giving way to broader tolerance on sexual orientation issues. Gays and lesbians now openly serve in the U.S. military. A recently re-elected President Barack Obama supports gay rights, and more states are approving gay marriage. And communities such as Pinellas County and the city of Tampa have created domestic partnership registries that include same-sex couples.
Those who support keeping the ban have actually made the best case for why this half-reform is so imperfect. What will happen, they ask, when scouts gather at the National Scout Jamboree and some troops have gay leaders and others won't accept them. Exactly. The only long-term solution for an organization that wishes to remain so well-regarded and viable in American life is to welcome all boys, not just some of them. That journey has begun; the only question now should be how long it will take.