The new head of the Boy Scouts of America, former Defense Secretary Robert Gates, said Friday he supports inclusion of gay adults in Scouting but opposes re-opening talks on the issue that has divided one of the country’s most popular youth organizations in recent years.
Gates was confirmed as the BSA president on Thursday at the group’s annual national meeting in Nashville. His appointment comes one year after the organization voted in a controversial ballot to allow gay youth - but not adults - to join Scouting.
"I was prepared to go further than the decision that was made," Gates told The Associated Press before delivering a speech at the meeting in remarks that were distributed by the BSA. "I would have supported having gay Scoutmasters, but at the same time, I fully accept the decision that was democratically arrived at by 1,500 volunteers (on the National Council) from across the entire country."
Gates said the membership issue "has left us divided, distracted and defensive."
"Given the strong feelings - the passion - involved on both sides of this matter, I believe strongly that to re-open the membership issue or try to take last year's decision to the next step would irreparably fracture and perhaps even provoke a formal, permanent split in this movement - with the high likelihood neither side would subsequently survive on its own.
"... And who would pay the price for destroying the Boy Scouts of America? Millions of Scouts today and Scouts yet unborn. ... Thus, during my time as president, I will oppose any effort to re-open the issue."