The Boy Scouts of America (BSA) voted 45-12 today to lift its decades-long ban prohibiting gay troop leaders, employees and volunteers within the organization, effective immediately. The move follows the July 10th unanimous resolution by the BSA’s executive committee. With this week’s ratification of the resolution, chartered organizations are now allowed to “select adult leaders without regard to sexual orientation.”
“For far too long this issue has divided and distracted us,” BSA President Dr. Robert M. Gates said in a statement released after the vote. “Now it’s time to unite behind our shared belief in the extraordinary power of Scouting to be a force for good in our community and in the lives of its youth members.”
The vote was especially poignant for former Scout leader, Jen Tyrell. Three years ago, Tyrell was ousted from her position as den leader to her son’s Cub Scout troop with the Ohio River Valley Council Boy Scouts because she was gay. “I wanted to be part of my son’s life and share all the great bonding experiences that scouting offers,” she recalls. “I wanted a chance to be that guiding force for some kid who maybe just needed to know that someone believed in him. I truly felt like I was making a difference in these boys’ lives.”
The BSA has a long history of exclusion. Since the 1970s, it has argued that homosexual conduct is not “morally straight” or “clean,” and is thus in violation of the Scout Oath and Scout Law.
In 2000, this position made it all the way to the Supreme Court in Boy Scouts of America v. Dale. There, the Supreme Court upheld the organization’s right to exclude gay scoutmasters citing the First Amendment’s right to freedom of expressive association.
However, much has changed since Dale, and the threat of successful litigation against the BSA loomed large. In 2013, the Scouts lifted their ban against gay scouts – while keeping the ban against gay scoutmasters in place. Then in May, Robert Gates, president of the organization, issued a warning call to the BSA: “We must deal with the world as it is, not as we might wish it to be. The status quo in our movement’s membership standards cannot be sustained.”