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Boy Scouts of America end ban on gay troop leaders

Then-US Secretary of Defense Dr. Robert M. Gates in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, in 2011.
Then-US Secretary of Defense Dr. Robert M. Gates in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, in 2011.
William Thomas Cain/Getty Images

The Boy Scouts of America on July 27 ended its ban on openly gay troop leaders. Of those present and voting, 79 percent of BSA's National Executive Board voted in favor of the resolution.

The board was challenged with reviewing the current adult leadership policy "denying membership to homosexuals." Their decision could impact how other education-focused organizations approach the matter. According to its website, BSA has about 2.5 million youth members and more than 960,000 volunteers.

BSA President Robert Gates signaled major changes to the organization's leadership policy in May, including the embrace of gay troop leaders nationwide. The BSA has been criticized in years past for its controversial policies on gay members. In 2013, the organization decided to allow gay scouts but maintained a ban on gay troop leaders on Scout councils.

During the May speech at an annual meeting in Atlanta, Gates reflected upon the then-pending US Supreme Court decision on same-sex marriage, and observed that the organization's local chapters would likely oppose expanding leadership opportunities for gay adults.

Below are the sections of the May speech in which Gates discussed the complicated history of sexual orientation, marriage equality, and the BSA. The speech comprises the primary arguments Gates publicized leading up to the executive committee vote.

Gates reviewed state of sexual orientation discrimination laws as well as same-sex marriage laws in the United States:

Nor can we ignore the social, political and juridical changes taking place in our country – changes taking place at a pace over this past year no one anticipated.

He pointed out that states like Arkansas and Indiana are considering laws that review sexual orientation discrimination. He also noted that the Supreme Court review of same-sex marriage laws, which was legalized nationwide in June:

I remind you of the recent debates we have seen in places like Indiana and Arkansas over discrimination based on sexual orientation, not to mention the impending U.S. Supreme court decision this summer on gay marriage. I am not asking the national board for any action to change our current policy at this meeting.

Gates said that he would speak "plainly and bluntly" to BSA leadership in advocating to remove the ban against gay scout members:

But I must speak as plainly and bluntly to you as I spoke to presidents when I was director of CIA and secretary of defense. We must deal with the world as it is, not as we might wish it to be.

Between a reference to his own past and the reluctance of local chapters to reform, Gates argued the organization required change:

The status quo in our movement’s membership standards cannot be sustained.

The BSA would deny the "lifelong benefits of scouting" to potential members by revoking the charters of chapters who do not agree, he argued:

We can expect more councils to openly challenge the current policy. While technically we have the authority to revoke their charters, such an action would deny the lifelong benefits of scouting to hundreds of thousands of boys and young men today and vastly more in the future. I will not take that path.

Gates raised the examples of "dozens" of state reform efforts, including those in New York and Utah:

Moreover, dozens of states – from New York to Utah – are passing laws that protect employment rights on the basis of sexual orientation.

Gates, before shifting to closing remarks, acknowledged that the organization has "an unsustainable position":

Thus, between internal challenges and potential legal conflicts, the BSA finds itself in an unsustainable position. A position that makes us vulnerable to the possibility the courts simply will order us at some point to change our membership policy. We must all understand that this probably will happen sooner rather than later.

In closing remarks, Gates urged leaders to "seize control" of their own future.