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Topics In the News
Boy Scouts of America to Vote on Ban
Posted by: Claude J. Summers on 05/22/13
Last updated on: 05/22/13
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Activist James Dale in a GLAAD video.

As the Boy Scouts of America National Council gathers in Dallas to reconsider its ban on gay scouts and leaders on May 24, 2013, the real question is not whether they will (as expected) repeal the ban on scouts but retain it for adult scout leaders and employees. The real question is whether whatever they do is too little, too late. The leaders of the Boy Scouts of America have managed to besmirch their own brand, which at one time was as honored and as American as apple pie. The BSA has marginalized itself so as to become little more than a religious organization, largely Southern and rural, more famous for bigotry than for building character.

In the face of plummeting membership, the BSA is desperate to refurbish its tarnished image. It has recently lost a number of major donors; many municipalities, government groups, and charitable organizations have pointedly disassociated themselves from the organization; and even entertainers have refused to perform at its jamborees, fearing that any affiliation with the BSA might hurt their careers.

But it is far from clear whether it is now possible for the Boy Scouts to recover the luster it once had. Precisely because so many people now hold the organization in disdain and have abandoned it, the Boy Scouts is in ever more thrall to the conservative religious groups that sponsor most of its troops, and it is unlikely that it can reach out beyond that increasingly narrow base.

The so-called "compromise" that would allow openly gay scouts but not adults is not a compromise at all. It continues to brand gay people as potential predators. It will please neither the critics of the current discriminatory policy nor those who support it.

The situation of the Boy Scouts is rife with irony. They fought all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court to preserve their right to discriminate against gay people. They won at the Court, but their victory was pyrrhic. It has forever associated the organization with blatant bigotry.

The case that reached the Supreme Court was brought by Lambda Legal on behalf of Eagle Scout and former assistant scoutmaster James Dale in 1990. He had been active in a New Jersey troop during the 1980s, but the Monmouth Council of the BSA forced him out when they read about his membership in a gay student group at Rutgers University in a newspaper article.

Ruling against Dale, New Jersey superior court judge Patrick McGann accused him of "moral depravity" and used material from the Bible to support his decision in favor of the Boy Scouts. Dale and his lawyers, led by Evan Wolfson, appealed the case, and the state appellate court ruled that the Boy Scouts was a "public accommodation" and had to obey the state's anti-discrimination law.

The Boy Scouts appealed the case to the United States Supreme Court. In June 2000, a bitterly divided Court ruled 5-4 that the New Jersey law banning discrimination against homosexuals did not apply to the Boy Scouts. Citing the organization's First Amendment right of freedom of association, the U.S. Supreme Court supported the organization's policy of banning gay members and leaders.

In a new video produced by GLAAD, which has been leading the campaign against BSA's discriminatory policies, Dale speaks about his case and how even in losing he won.

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