Reuters reports that the Boy Scouts of America will soon consider a proposed new policy, one that will admit homosexual youth to the organization. The Scouts have long considered homosexuality to be inconsistent with their values, and have thus excluded homosexuals from membership; but they have come under pressure in recent years to change their policy.
The revision is presented as a kind of compromise, since it continues a policy of not admitting homosexual adults into the Scouts. The organization apparently conducted a long study of the opinions of parents of scouts, and found that their primary concern (or at least the primary concern of a majority of them) was not with homosexual youth being members but with homosexual adults. Homosexual rights advocates are praising the decision as far as it goes, but also criticizing the Scouts for not proposing to go futher.
The policy, which has not yet been adopted but which will be put to a vote in May, raises some interesting problems to ponder. It is defensible in principle, even from the standpoint of the traditional morality for which the Scouts have stood, but it also presents some obvious practical problems.
I seems defensible in principle, even from the standpoint of traditional religious morality, because a homosexual orientation is not itself immoral or sinful. In excluding homosexuals, the Scouts have in the past suggested that homosexuality is inconsistent with the Scouting value of being a morally upright person. But even people who consider homosexual acts to be immoral or sinful need not — and usually do not — regard a homosexual orientation as immoral or a sin. And as it is framed in the Reuters article, the new policy is apparently careful to state that sexual orientation or preference alone would not be grounds on which to exclude a boy from scouting. Such a policy would evidently permit somebody to be excluded for inappropriate sexual conversation or for being sexually active, and would not involve a discrimination against homosexual youth because presumably heterosexuals who behaved the same way would be likewise excluded or expelled.
On the other hand, it is not hard to think of the practical problems that the Scouts could encounter with such a policy.
In the first place, irrespective of the merits of the policy a lot of social conservatives whose boys are involved in scouting will probably dislike the new policy. They will either think it goes too far in itself, or fear that it is just a step toward a total lifting of the ban, or will be irritated because they feel the Scouts have been bullied into changing their principles and policies, or will hold all of these views. And they may think that in practice it will be impossible to sustain the conduct-disposition distinction mentioned above, so that the new policy implicitly means that their sons will be socialized in an organization that is indifferent in matters of sexual morality. Some of these people may pull out of scouting or break off and form their own organizations.
Moreover, having openly homosexual youth in the Scouts will create the danger of bullying of them by other boys. This is a danger among any group of boys. To prevent this, or to deal with it when it happens, there might need to be programs or presentations on the issue of bullying homosexual members. And of course they should not be bullied, and it would be right to teach the others not to bully them. But a lot of parents probably send their boys to scouting hoping for an environment innocent of all such problems.
Finally, even the limited new policy creates an issue that the Scouts would not have had to worry about before: the possibility of sexual attraction and even sexual activity among the youth members themselves. That issue is likely to be in the back of some parents’ minds, and maybe even in the front, whether or not they choose to voice it openly.