Last week delegates representing the Boy Scouts of America voted to change the organization’s membership policy. The traditional Scout policy excluded openly gay members. Liberal activists have fought against that policy for a number of years, but have been resisted by traditionalists. Now the Scouts are trying out something of a compromise. The new policy retains the ban on openly gay Scout leaders while lifting the ban on gay members. Now an openly gay youth will be able to be a member, but an openly gay man will not be able to be a leader.
Over at Public Discourse I argue that this new policy cannot last long. There is a certain incoherence to it, I contend, that makes it impossible to defend. After all, what rational justification could one think of for admitting gay youths but banning gay leaders? If the Scouts hold to their old view that there is something morally problematic about homosexuality, why admit openly gay members? If they have rejected that belief, why exclude openly gay leaders? If they are worried about the possibility of scandalous sexual activity among members, isn’t that a danger both among members as well as between leaders and members?
This is a problem not just in the court of public opinion, where gay rights activists will certainly continue to press for further change, but also in courts of law as well, where we can expect actual lawsuits. About 13 years ago, in Boy Scouts v. Dale, the Scouts prevailed in a legal challenge to their membership policy. The challenge was based on a state anti-discrimination law, but the Scouts were able to persuade a majority of Supreme Court justices that they had a First Amendment right to control their own membership on issues central to the organization’s expressive aims. For that argument to work, however, the organization’s membership policies have to be presentable as a real reflection of its moral ideology, and not just as a pretext to engage in discrimination. The Scouts have undermined their ability to make that case by the compromise they have struck.
The whole article can be found here.