Boy Scouts' president: Ban on gay adults 'cannot be sustained'

Boy Scouts of America President Robert Gates said on Thursday that the organization’s existing ban on gay leaders “cannot be sustained” and urged for an eventual change of course in order to avoid potential litigation.

Gates, a former U.S. Secretary of Defense, made the remarks at the group’s national business meeting In Atlanta.

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According to a copy of his prepared remarks, Gates said the Boy Scouts of America cannot continue to “ignore growing internal challenges to our current membership policy.” He added, “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." Gates pointed to the impending U.S. Supreme Court decision on gay marriage and recent debates in Indiana and Arkansas over discrimination based on sexual orientation.

Gates stressed at the meeting in Atlanta that he wasn’t asking the national board to take immediate action, but urged the organization to do something “sooner rather than later.” He floated the possibility of changing the policy to allow local Boy Scout groups and their charter partners “to determine the standards for their Scout leaders.”

In December of 2013, members of the Boy Scouts of America’s national council voted in favor of allowing openly gay youths into the organization starting in 2014 — although openly gay adults were still barred from holding leadership positions. The new policy resulted in some churches backing out of their sponsorship.

Gates’ latest remarks are a change of tune from what he said in May of 2014. At that time, he said that he would “oppose any effort to re-open” the issue of allowing gay adults to serve as Scoutmasters. Gates said back then that while he backs the inclusion of gay adults in Scouting, the move could “irreparably fracture” or create a “formal, permanent split” in the organization. 

Zach Wahls, executive director of Scouts for Equality, praised Gate’s call to end the national ban on gay adults. “This is another step forward for the Boy Scouts of America,” said Wahls in a statement. He continued, “While our work won’t be done until we see a full end to their ban on gay adults once and for all, today’s decision moves the Boy Scouts in that direction.”