If the Boy Scouts of America is seriously aiming to reclaim its reputation for building character and leadership, it has to go further than it did Thursday in lifting its much-criticized ban on gay Scouts but maintaining it on gay Scout leaders. After all, telling gay youths that they can join now, but will be kicked out as adults, isn’t a tenable message: It’s a crabbed political compromise.
The vote came after an internal survey found majority support for gay youths but continuing opposition from older volunteers and religious conservatives to gay leaders. But even if the older Scout leaders are uncomfortable with gays among them, they should respect the principle of nondiscrimination: Unless a Scout leader violates an objective rule, he or she should be free from discrimination.
The hope is that, over time, the ban on gay Scout leaders will go the way of the ban on gay Scouts, or local councils will be allowed to set their own policies. Councils such as the Boston Minuteman have long sought to assert their own nondiscrimination policies, and over the last year many others, including most recently the Connecticut Yankee Council, have declared their wish to be inclusive, too. As the BSA national board continues to contort itself into a square knot, many Scout groups are following the higher ideals of Scouting, vowing to be courteous and kind to all.