At its annual national meeting on Thursday, the head of the Boy Scouts of America called for a change in policy that could well signal the end of a long-standing discriminatory practice. Robert Gates, Boy Scouts president, advocated to stop banning gay leaders, a policy that has caused deep rifts within the century-old organization.
Gates, a former CIA Director and former U.S. Defense Secretary, told the conference in Atlanta that the ban was unsustainable in this day and age:
"I must speak as plainly and bluntly to you as I spoke to presidents when I was director of the CIA and secretary of Defense. We must deal with the world as it is, not as we might wish it to be. The status quo in our movement's membership standards cannot be sustained."
But, as The New York Times reported, Gates also noted in his speech that backers of the Boy Scouts, among them Mormons and Roman Catholics, have jurisdiction over their own leadership policies, thereby exempting them from his push to change the organization's policy. He added that his speech was not a formal proposal, but the Boy Scouts' governing body should officially take up the issue at the next meeting.
The organization's prohibition of gay members courted controversy only in the past decade, as the gay rights movement pushed its away to the mainstream public eye. Its conservative sponsors and liberal leaders clashed over whether gays should be allowed to participate in the Boy Scouts.
In 2013, the organization's leaders voted to shut down the policy of denying membership "on the basis of sexual orientation or preference alone," but it did not extend that to the Boy Scouts leadership, which remained a source of intense internal debate.
Last month, in a public challenge of the ban, the organization's New York chapter hired the nation's first ever openly-gay Eagle Scout, 18-year-old Pascal Tessier, as a summer camp leader. Gates said in his speech that the Boy Scouts of America will not seek to remove the charters of chapters that defy the ban on gay leaders.
As Defense Secretary, Gates played a huge role in the military repealing its "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" policy. In his Atlanta speech, he acknowledged the rapidity in which the movement for gay rights has gained support:
"Nor can we ignore the social, political and juridical changes taking place in our country – changes taking place at a pace over this past year no one anticipated. We must deal with the world as it is, not as we might wish it to be."
For the first time in the nation's recent history, a majority of Americans currently support marriage equality and the President of the United States has come out in favor of the issue as the Supreme Court deliberates over whether same-sex marriage is constitutional.
Cover image via iStock / jgroup.