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On Monday, July 27th, the Boy Scouts of America made a change in their sexual orientation policy. Now, with 79% of the executive leaders in favor, the Boy Scouts allow gay leaders and employees, effective immediately. However, the new rule explicitly states that church-sponsored troops can choose troop leaders that align with the church’s belief. This means that if a church charters a Boy Scout troop, that church can still choose not to allow openly gay leaders.
For some religious groups, this exception isn’t enough. The Mormon Church, which accounts for approximately 17% of scouts, made serious threats on Monday to leave the Boy Scouts of America to start a group that better aligns with the Mormon Church’s belief.
This parallels some groups’ reactions to the Boy Scouts’ 2013 decision to allow openly gay youth. That caused some evangelical churches to leave the Boy Scouts and start their own organizations, such as Trail Life USA, a religious scouting group with more restrictive sexual orientation policies. (Read our full profile of the organization from the September 2015 issue).
The divide on sexual orientation policy within the Boy Scouts may have contributed to a decrease in national enrollment, down 6 percent in 2013 and 7 percent in 2014.
Organization president and former U.S. Secretary of Defense, Robert M. Gates, released a video statement Monday. “For far too long,” he says in the video, “this issue has divided and distracted us. Now it’s time to unite behind our shared belief in the extraordinary power of scouting to be a force for good in the community and in the lives of its youth members.” Gates is one of the Boy Scouts’ more prominent supporters of allowing openly gay employees and troop leaders into the organization.
Gay rights advocates, meanwhile, are satisfied but not ecstatic about the new policy. They believe that the exception for church-sponsored troops highlights how far Boy Scouts really are from becoming an all-inclusive organization.