Under the pressure of declining membership, reduced corporate contributions, and fewer public schools in which to conduct their activities, the Boy Scouts of America are considering lifting their traditional ban on accepting youth members and adult volunteers who are gay.
A vote by the organization's National Executive Board, scheduled for Feb. 8, was postponed until the Scouts' annual meeting in May, when 1,400 members of Scouting's national council will debate whether to allow local groups to set their own recruitment policies.
Membership in Boy Scouts has shrunk by about one-third since 1999. A recent nationwide poll conducted by Quinnipiac University found 55 percent of respondents approve of lifting the ban to include gays. President Barack Obama, ex officio honorary president of the Scouts, supports gay membership in Scouting.
Gay activists are expected to oppose a merely selective opening of the membership to gays in favor of a total lifting of the ban. Jennifer Tyrell, a lesbian from Ohio who was forced out as a den leader, recently delivered to Scouting executives more than 1.4 million signatures on petitions seeking an end to the ban.
Although the Supreme Court in 2000 upheld the Scouts' right to exclude gays, many public school districts are now reluctant to offer meeting space to the Scouts because BSA gives the appearance of being discriminatory.
Scouts continue to hold their activities on church property, however. More than 70 percent of all troops nationwide are sponsored by a church group, although individual Scouts are not required to be members of the sponsoring denomination.
Catholic, Methodist, Lutheran and Baptist churches have long been affiliated with the Boy Scouts of America. The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints was the first church sponsor of Scouting and today contributes the most Scouts (420,977) of any officially chartered organization in the U.S.
Scouting's ban on gay membership reflects the organization's opposition to homosexual behavior. Its "Youth Leadership" policy, adopted in 2004, reads, in part, "Scouts are expected to take up leadership positions. In the unlikely event that an older boy were to hold himself out as homosexual, he would not be able to continue in a youth leadership position."
The Scouts' fixation on sexuality probably stems in part from sex-abuse cases involving Scout leaders that resulted in convictions and financial settlements.
In 2012, the Scouts were forced by court order to release more than 20,000 pages documenting 1,200 alleged child sexual abuse cases that occurred between 1965 and 1985.
It is important to clarify that these adult offenders were not homosexuals -- they were pedophiles.
Since 2003 new adult volunteers to Scouting have been required to pass a criminal background check.