This week, after years of secret analysis and months of delays, the Boy Scouts of America finally voted to allow openly gay youth under the age of 18 to enroll in the influential organization. Historic as Thursday night's overturning of the ban may be, the vote upset as many religious groups — who help pay for one of the nation's most storied youth programs and saw the move as an appeasement — as it did gay rights advocates, who see the Scouts as out of line with the rest of the country and will continue to push one of the nation's most storied youth programs for the open admission of gay adult leaders and role models. Indeed, what seems like progress from the top-down may not only lead to lawsuits, defections, and instant bigotry — the vote may reveal the problem with Boy Scouts from the inside-out: its first official coming out party is still a microcosm of discord on gay acceptance, especially in Christian America, no matter what polls say today or the Supreme Court declares in a few weeks. Here's a survey of the reaction so far.
Gay Rights Advocates Are Not Thrilled
Perhaps the best summation of how LGBT groups felt about the vote — 61 percent of the 1,400 member Boy Scouts national council supported allowing gay Scouts — is in this Mother Jones headline: "Boy Scouts: You Can Be Gay Until You Turn 18." Here is one of the definitive extracurricular passions for impressionable kids in American history, and they're not okay with the people making impressions on them being gay. And what about boys who come before the age of 18? Do they just get booted when they're no longer a minor? Disavowed? "It's an incomplete step, but still a step in the right direction," Zach Wahls, an Eagle Scout raised by two lesbian mothers, and founder of Scouts for Equality, told MoJo.
The outspoken and out 16-year-old Pascal Tessier had mixed emotions as well: "Obviously, for gay Scouts like me, this vote is life-changing," he said at a press conference. But he added: "That one couple hours (between 17 and 18) will make me not a good person."
And then there was GLAAD, which has been perhaps the leading lobbyist putting pressure on the Scouts council — and which isn't stopping now. "It's time to keep up the pressure! GLAAD needs your help to make sure gay parents and adults are also able to participate," read the organization's release on the vote.
Perhaps one of the more scathing critiques arrived from over at the gay blog Towleroad and its legal guru Ari Ezra Waldman, who argues that allowing gay youths into the organization while denying gay leaders is more harmful — because the Scouts see a young gay person as someone who needs some sort of correction. Waldman writes:
The ban on gay scout leaders does more evil than simply denying young gay scouts good role models. It reinforces the Scout message that homosexuality is wrong: The Scouts are saying that, as a child, you don't know who or what you are, so we will help you find yourself; as an adult, your choice to be gay, in violation of morality and God, makes you a negative influence on children.
The Mormon Church Is Just Fine
According to the Boy Scouts's own statistics, over 70 percent of Scouts are sponsored by religious groups. And in the official Boy Scouts statement on Thursday, the group's organizing body made sure to say that the decision was "in line with the beliefs" of most major religions. With that, everyone was waiting to see what the Mormon church, the single largest religious sponsor of the Boy Scouts of America, would have to say. Turns out, they're completely fine with decision. The Church posted a statement on their website which read:
Sexual orientation has not previously been – and is not now – a disqualifying factor for boys who want to join Latter-day Saint Scout troops ... Willingness to abide by standards of behavior continues to be our compelling interest.
To some, that response was a relief. The fallout and possible defections if the Mormon Church had disavowed the vote would have been nothing short of staggering, considering the amount of clout it has across the organization.
Other Religious Groups? Not So Much
"We are deeply saddened," Frank Page, president of the Southern Baptist Convention's executive committee, told the AP. He added: "Homosexual behavior is incompatible with the principles enshrined in the Scout oath and Scout law." For reference, here are the Scout Oath and Scout Law:
Scout Oath (or Promise)
On my honor I will do my best
To do my duty to God and my country
and to obey the Scout Law;
To help other people at all times;
To keep myself physically strong,
mentally awake, and morally straight.
A Scout is trustworthy, loyal, helpful, friendly,
courteous, kind, obedient, cheerful, thrifty,
brave, clean, and reverent.
It's unclear what elements of being gay Page feels are so diametrically opposed to the oath and law. And, yes, everyone has been making that "morally straight" pun for a while now.
The Southern Baptist Convention, of course, was not alone. The Assemblies of God, an alliance of churches that identifies as Christian, told the AP that letting gay boys into the Boy Scouts would start a mass exodus. The Los Angeles Times's Molly Hennessy Fiske reported that prior to the vote, the Boy Scouts were already expecting troops and the religious groups that sponsor them to drop out, but there is no solid number as of yet. "[The Assemblies of God] also warned that the change would make the BSA vulnerable to lawsuits seeking to end the ban on gay adults," the AP added.
One of the most vocal responses came from the Family Research Council, a group that touts itself as Christian but is designated by the Southern Poverty Law Center as an anti-gay hate group. The FRC called the decision a "casualty of moral compromise." The FRC had been posting videos of leaders threatening to pull out their troops ahead of the vote, and even took out a full-page ad in the in the Dallas Morning News on Thursday to tell leaders to keep the ban on gay scouts. "There is little doubt that God will soon be ushered out of scouting. Now is the time for new leadership. In the meantime, we will stand with those BSA Councils who will now act to protect boys from a new policy that only creates moral confusion and disrespects the views of the vast majority of Scouting parents," the group said.
And the Nuclear Meltdown of This Historic Moment Goes to...
...Red State's Erick Erickson. His Twitter feed on Thursday night was an undulating maelstrom of ranting and evangelical raving. After the decision, he asserted that he didn't care for emo Jesus:
Yes, Christ is love, but he is also wrath, vengeance, and redemption.The modern emo Christ is a fiction.Christ could throw a punch.— Erick Erickson (@EWErickson) May 24, 2013
And that he wanted to make sure his followers knew he felt being gay is a sin:
I'm not worried about my son becoming gay. I'm worried about him living in a society that doesn't recognize it as a sin.— Erick Erickson (@EWErickson) May 23, 2013
And that he was hungry for (delicious) anti-gay chicken:
I think I need Chick-Fil-A for lunch.— Erick Erickson (@EWErickson) May 24, 2013
Erickson eventually penned a column stating that he has "No Problem With the Boy Scouts’ Decision," though he spent most of his words insisting that his son will not be a Scout and that gay people are sinning. "I have gay friends. But I do worry about a society that does not recognize homosexual practice as sin. We all fall short of the glory of God, we all like sheep have gone astray, but that does not mean we should stay on the ground off the path of righteousness. We all must repent.," Erickson wrote. So much for history.