The official oath of the Boy Scouts of America instructs its charges to be “morally straight.” For most of its long history, the BSA has taken these words very literally, barring all openly gay people from leadership positions.
No longer. The New York Times reported on Sunday that the organization will finally allow gay people to serve in its ranks without having to lie about who they are.
There is a catch: Local groups run by churches will still be allowed to ban gay leaders on religious grounds. But David Boies, the famed attorney who has led a legal crusade against the ban, told the Times that he’s not sure whether that compromise will even hold up.
The BSA fiercely defended its anti-gay policies for decades. It went all the way to the Supreme Court in 2000 to protect its right to exclude gay people. The Court agreed, and the BSA hailed the decision, saying, “We believe an avowed homosexual is not a role model for the values espoused in the Scout oath and law.”
But times change, and the Boy Scouts suddenly found themselves on the wrong side of history. It turned out that an increasing number of politicians, corporations, and ordinary people didn’t want to support an openly discriminatory organization. Membership began to decline. Big companies like Disney and Verizon started to pull their funding. The city of Philadelphia even tried to evict the local Scouts chapter from the building it had occupied since 1928.
In 2013, the BSA tried to end the controversy by allowing openly gay youth to be Scouts while still maintaining its ban on gay leaders. Clearly, though, that did little to assuage the increasingly vocal opponents of the ban, and now the Scouts appear to have bowed to the inevitable.
Any Scouts mourning the loss of a beloved discriminatory policy should take heart, though: The group’s ban on atheists appears to be in no trouble at all.