Excuse me for not standing to salute at word this week that bigotry by the Boy Scouts of America might soon be optional.
The mandatory exclusion of homosexuals from scouting might disappear as soon as next week by vote of the organization’s executive board, but any local troop could still ban gay scouts and scoutmasters if embracing equality is deemed inconsistent with its “mission, principles, or religious beliefs,” according to Deron Smith, spokesman for the Boy Scouts of America.
This is cause to break out the rainbow flags? Isn’t it more comparable to George Wallace, Ross Barnett and Lester Maddox magnanimously accepting integration but only on a state-by-state basis? No pressure Alabama, Mississippi and Georgia!
This is no more a step in the right direction than was “don’t ask, don’t tell” or civil unions. Those policies, hailed as progress 20 years ago, only institutionalized the denial of equal rights to gay people in the military and in marriage.
The culture, if not the Boy Scouts of America, knows that the time for incrementalism in gay rights is long past. A pair of USA Today/Gallup polls last month confirmed the findings of other recent surveys — support for gay rights is growing and growing fast. Among Americans 18 to 29 years old, 73 percent support same-sex marriage.
Do the Boy Scouts really think that generation is going to tolerate rank bigotry in a youth organization that purports to “build the future leaders of this country”?
Yes, the United States Supreme Court once upheld the right of the Boy Scouts of America to exclude homosexuals, but that 5-4 decision came down in 2000, three years before Massachusetts became the first of nine states and the District of Columbia to legalize gay marriage, and 11 years before the U.S. military rescinded the policy that forced gay people to lie about their sexual orientation in order to serve their county.
So, what’s really going on here? What has changed in the seven months since the Boy Scouts reaffirmed its commitment to discrimination as “absolutely the best policy” in a unanimous vote by an 11-member review panel that had studied the question for two years?
Did the organization really hear a call to conscience when President Obama declared in his second inaugural address that “our journey is not complete until our gay brothers and sisters are treated like anyone else under the law”?
Did it finally take note that the Girl Scouts of America has banned discrimination based on sexual orientation for almost 25 years without the sky, or cookie sales, collapsing?
The answer sadly is closer to the latter than the former. This is about money. Since the Boy Scouts of America decided to continue to cast its lot with bigotry last summer, major sponsors have pulled their funding. Intel is gone. So is UPS. A campaign on change.org is pressuring Verizon to walk away or make a mockery of its 100 percent approval rating by the Human Rights Campaign, the national gay rights organization.
Tony Perkins, the president of the increasingly irrelevant Family Research Council, calls this “bullying” by “homosexual activists” and urges the Boy Scouts to “stand firm.”
That strategy did not work for Governor George Wallace, standing in that schoolhouse door 50 years ago, blocking the entrance of black students into the University of Alabama. It won’t work today for those who stand, no matter how firmly, against a surging tide in this country for full and equal rights for gay children as well as gay adults.