It was disappointing Wednesday when the executive board of the Boy Scouts of America delayed a decision to let local troops make their own decisions on whether to allow openly gay participants. Religious conservatives, who hold significant sway in the organization, unleashed a firestorm of protest when it became clear last week that the board might lift its national ban on gay Scouts. Still, the delay also came with a commitment to hold a definitive vote on the policy at the BSA’s national meeting in May. So the 103-year-old organization has forced a choice upon itself: Either it will emerge from this debate with a commitment to advancing a sense of community in an increasingly diverse America, or behave like an intolerant relic of the past.
The next three and a half months will be important. The BSA must find a way to temper the intolerance of the religious right, which claims, against all evidence, that allowing a gay member of a troop in Arlington, Mass., would somehow damage troop cohesion in Arlington, Texas, or Arlington, Va. But the stance of gay-rights advocates, some of whom rejected last week’s move and say they will not be satisfied with anything except a nationally binding nondiscrimination policy, also complicates efforts by BSA leaders to steer the organization toward a more welcoming posture.