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Boy Scouts Delays Decision on Lifting Ban on Gay Members

February 6, 2013 at 12:00 AM EDT
In January 2013, the Boy Scouts of America said it was considering lifting its ban on gay members, drawing strong reactions from both sides of the debate. The organization then delayed its decision until May. Jeffrey Brown gets views from Zach Wahls of Scouts for Equality and Richard Land of the Southern Baptist Convention.
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JEFFREY BROWN: And finally tonight: the Boy Scouts’ decision to delay a vote on gay membership, after strong reaction on both sides to a possible move to lift the organization’s ban.

NARRATOR: Wherever you find community projects, you will generally find one or more Boy Scouts.

JEFFREY BROWN: For generations, Scouting has shaped itself as an organization devoted to national ideals and values. But, in recent years, the Scouts have come under criticism that they are out of step with the growing acceptance of gays.

Hundreds of Eagle Scouts, recipients of Scouting’s highest honor, have returned their badges to protest a longstanding ban on openly gay Scouts and leaders.

Will Oliver is a gay Eagle Scout in Massachusetts.

WILL OLIVER, Eagle Scout: I was taught that there are three kinds of duties: first, duties to God and country, and second, duties to other people. I was taught about a third kind of duty as well, the duties that I owe just to myself, to speak the truth, not to shirk my sense of right and wrong, not to stand by passively in the face of injustice.

JEFFREY BROWN: In 2000, the U.S. Supreme Court upheld the ban, but the pressure has continued to build. Some major corporate funders, including UPS and Merck, have recently withdrawn their support. And two board members of the Boy Scouts of America have vowed to make the organization more inclusive.

Last week, the Scouts signaled they were considering a reversal, possibly allowing religious and civic groups that sponsor local chapters to decide for themselves whether to allow gay Scouts and Scout leaders.

President Obama weighed in, opposing the ban, in an interview with CBS News.

PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA, United States: Gays and lesbians should have access and opportunity, the same way everybody else does, in every institution and walk of life.

JEFFREY BROWN: And, on Monday, Scouts and their families delivered petitions bearing more than a million signatures calling for an end to the ban to the BSA’s national headquarters in Irving, Texas. But a number of churches and others have warned that if the ban is abolished, they will drop their sponsorship of Scout chapters.

And Republican Gov. Rick Perry of Texas, an Eagle Scout himself, argued that lifting the ban would go too far.

GOV. RICK PERRY, R-Tex.: Scouting is about teaching a substantial amount of life lessons. Sexuality is not one of them. It never has been. It doesn’t need to be. You know, I think most people see absolutely no reason to change their position. And neither do I.

JEFFREY BROWN: Today, the Boy Scouts of America board decided to delay any decision. They issued a statement saying, “Due to the complexity of this issue, the organization needs time for a more deliberate review of its membership policy.”

Now it will fall to the 1,400 voting members of the Boy Scouts National Council to decide on a membership standards resolution in May.

Two views now. Zach Wahls is an Eagle Scout and founder of the group Scouts for Equality, which is pushing to change the policy. Richard Land is president of the Southern Baptist Convention’s Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission. He’s been opposed to allowing gay Scouts to become members.

First to you, Zach Wahls. What’s your reaction to today’s move to delay a decision on ending the ban?

ZACH WAHLS, Scouts for Equality: Absolutely.

You know, it was a little disappointing, to be sure. A lot us were expecting the BSA to lift of ban today, but it makes sense that they would want to take this to their National Council, which has representatives from all over the country, and allow them to discuss this a little bit further. We continue to expect them to lift the ban in May.

JEFFREY BROWN: Richard Land, what’s your reaction to today’s move?

RICHARD LAND, Southern Baptist Convention Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission: Well, I — I’m very much pleased that they that they postponed this and are going to let the grassroots council from all across the nation decide this.

I have no doubt which way they will decide. They are responding to an enormous grassroots uprising that has taken place since they announced this proposed policy change.

JEFFREY BROWN: And, staying with you, the argument now for keeping the ban, what is the argument?

RICHARD LAND: Well, the argument is simply that the Boy Scouts have the right to have their core principles and to decide their membership policies.

And, as recently as six months ago, after a two-and-a-half year study by the Boy Scouts themselves, they said that the current policy was supported by an overwhelming majority of the parents of the youth that they serve. And this is — this attempt at compromise that has been proposed pleases no one. It doesn’t please those who want homosexual Scout membership, and it doesn’t please those who don’t.

And it takes away the leading legal — the legal guardianship they have, because the Supreme Court has said in 2000 that the reason they are able to maintain this membership ban is because it’s part of the core principles of Scouting. If you give a local option, that’s not a core principle. That’s a — that’s a preference. And the Constitution doesn’t protect preferences.

JEFFREY BROWN: All right, Zach Wahls, go ahead, first on the broad argument.

ZACH WAHLS: Yes, absolutely.

JEFFREY BROWN: Yes.

ZACH WAHLS: Yes.

Well, today, Quinnipiac University released a poll that found that more than 55 percent of Americans support lifting the ban, and only 33 percent support keeping the ban in place. That’s a massive shift over the last two years.

And so, even though, Richard, you’re absolutely right, the Scouting’s study found that some parents were certainly opposed to the policy, a lot has changed since them. And, further, you will see that young people overwhelmingly, people under the age of 44, more than 60 percent of us support lifting the ban.

The question that we really have to ask ourselves is, do we want boys to be raised by an organization that is still using values from the last century, or do you want an organization that reflects the values of the America that these young boys are going to grow up to lead?

People like Richard are trying to force people out of the program. We certainly aren’t. It’s people like Richard who are trying to say that Scouting’s values simply aren’t for everybody, and we just disagree.

JEFFREY BROWN: Well, Mr. Land, well, what — respond to that and also to those Scouts we saw in our setup piece, the ones who returned their badges, who said, we served honorably and we want to be Scouts.

RICHARD LAND: Well, the Boy Scout have an over-100-year tradition of their core principles. They have the right to maintain them.

The majority of the people who are actually involved in Scouting still support those principles. If there are people who want to have a program like the Scout program that has different principles, this is a free country. They’re perfectly free to have it, not try to impose their values on the Boy Scouts, who don’t want their values.

JEFFREY BROWN: Well, Zach Wahls, also …

JEFFREY BROWN: Go ahead. Go ahead.

ZACH WAHLS: It’s interesting.

Richard — Richard, do you know the Scout law or the Scout oath? I just find it hard to believe that you really care so deeply about the Boy Scouts, when you don’t even know what the core principles of the organization are. And the reason that people like you are making this case is because, for you, this isn’t about the Boy Scouts. For people like you, this is about the problems you have with parents like mine.

RICHARD LAND: Zach — you know, Zach, you have a really — an annoying habit of trying to say what other people are thinking, when they don’t think that.

I am speaking for the tens of thousands of Southern Baptists who are Boy Scouts and who are participating in Scouting; 70 percent of the Boy Scout organizations are supported by faith-based organizations, and 1.1 million Scouts …

ZACH WAHLS: Absolutely, absolutely.

RICHARD LAND: … are in organizations that are sponsored by Mormons and by Catholics and by Baptists. And I can assure you, they don’t share your values.

JEFFREY BROWN: All right, Zach …

ZACH WAHLS: Well, luckily, nobody is trying to — yes.

JEFFREY BROWN: Excuse me.

Zach Wahls, let me ask you, respond to that about the sponsorship. It is something like 70 percent affiliated with religious groups, and also …

ZACH WAHLS: It absolutely is.

JEFFREY BROWN: … the funding — the funding pressures that are coming from corporate sponsorships as well.

ZACH WAHLS: Right.

No, you’re absolutely right, Richard. Nobody is denying that 70 percent of BSA units are chartered by religious organizations, which is exactly why Presbyterian clergy, numerous United Methodist ministries, Episcopalian folks, ELCA folks, and the United Church of Christ have all issued statements supporting the ban and saying that lifting the ban would be more consistent with the BSA’s traditional fundamental values of dignity and respect, which is why nobody is trying to remove Baptists or Catholics or Mormons.

You are the only one trying to remove people from the program, sir. And in terms of the corporate pressure that is currently being put on the BSA, corporation executives make up a large percentage of the BSA board, so it makes a lot of sense that those corporate members who are also board members of the BSA who oppose the ban would also be voting with their dollars.

JEFFREY BROWN: Richard Land, let me ask you about the various sponsorship and corporate — corporate and other funding, the pressure has been put on the Boy Scouts. What — how much of a role do you think that is playing in this debate right now?

RICHARD LAND: Well, from what I have been told by people within Scouting, it is playing — it played a significant role in this proposed membership change.

And they were trying to placate everyone. And they are pleasing no one. No one is happy with this compromise. Zach’s not happy with this compromise. He acknowledges he’s not happy with the compromise. He doesn’t want to allow any Scout troops to what he calls discriminate against homosexual members.

He wants to impose his views on the entirety of Scouting. He said so just the other day on television when he was on television with me.

JEFFREY BROWN: Go ahead.

ZACH WAHLS: Yes, Richard, we were on “The Situation Room” last — yes.

No, Richard, we were on “The Situation Room” last night. We had this conversation then. I’m glad that we have had a chance to really hash this out. It has been a good talk.

But I will try and just make sure that you understand we aren’t trying to remove anybody from the program. You’re the only one who is trying to impose a ban, remove people from the …

JEFFREY BROWN: Excuse me. Gentlemen — gentlemen, let me …

ZACH WAHLS: People like a mom from Ohio who wanted to just to be a part of her son’s life.

JEFFREY BROWN: Let me ask Richard Land, is there — if the ban is lifted, would the — would your church, for example, urge members not to join? Is there a potential here for a split, a divided, or even two Scouting organizations in the future?

RICHARD LAND: I don’t think there’s any question that if the — if the ban were to be lifted, and they were to go to the local option, that there would be hundreds of thousands of Scouts that are sponsored by organizations like the Mormon Church, like Roman Catholics, and like Baptists and other conservative faith organizations that would withdraw their sponsorship and would go to other programs that would be parallel to the Boy Scouts.

JEFFREY BROWN: OK.

And, Richard — and, Zach Wahls, what do you think would happen if the ban is not lifted?

ZACH WAHLS: Well, I think, if the ban isn’t lifted, this organization, which I hold in the highest esteem, will simply no longer be relevant to a generation that has, unlike Richard, embraced LGBT equality across the country.

As I mentioned earlier, 60 — over 60 percent of people under the age of 45 support inclusive Scouting. And I really wish that Richard and his cohort would join us, but, if they don’t, they are certainly more than welcome to leave the program. That’s their choice, not ours.

JEFFREY BROWN: Zach Wahls and Richard Land, thank …

RICHARD LAND: And you’re welcome to start — and you’re welcome to start your own program, Zach, if you don’t like what the majority of Boy Scouts want to do.

JEFFREY BROWN: All right. All right, Richard Land, Zach Wahls, thank both you very much.

ZACH WAHLS: Yes, thank you very much. Have a good one.

JEFFREY BROWN: We spoke to several Eagle Scouts who were torn between their loyalty to an organization and their belief in equal treatment. You can listen to their stories online.