Mormon officials on Thursday night said the church would stay involved with Scouting “based on our mutual interest in helping boys and young men understand and live their duty to God and develop upright moral behavior.” Bishop Paul Loverde, the leader of the Catholic Diocese of Arlington, issued a statement saying the vote would likely force the diocese to reconsider sponsoring troops in about 50 of its parishes, while the Rev. William Byrne, secretary for pastoral ministry of the Archdiocese of Washington, said the new policy is not in conflict with Catholic teaching.
The vote of the century-old group symbolizes just how quickly many Americans’ views on homosexuality are changing. Just last summer the Scouts reaffirmed its desire to keep out openly gay boys and gay adult volunteers, a policy the Supreme Court upheld in 2000. But escalating pressure from families and major donors in the past year forced the Scouts to act.
The vote by the Boy Scouts of America’s National Council, meeting in Grapevine, Tex., removes “the restriction denying membership to youth on the basis of sexual orientation alone,” the Boy Scouts of America said in a statement.
“The Boy Scouts of America will not sacrifice its mission, or the youth served by the movement, by allowing the organization to be consumed by a single, divisive, and unresolved societal issue,” the statement said. “While people have different opinions about this policy, we can all agree that kids are better off when they are in Scouting.”
The new policy goes into effect Jan. 1.
For Theodore Anderson, an 18-year-old Springfield assistant scoutmaster, the vote means the end of 12 years in the program. The policy, he said, “goes against what my Bible and religion states are pleasing to the Lord.” Anderson plans to help his church launch a new youth program without openly gay members.
“You’re bringing into Scouting a whole new aspect that isn’t part of the program,” Anderson said. “Parents would have to explain certain things to youth of certain ages they don’t need to know about or worry about yet. It would slowly take the fun out of it.”
Jay Mechling, author of “On My Honor: Boy Scouts and the Making of American Youth,” said the organization knew it would lose members either way but was cognizant of its future.
“They are attuned to the demographics and understand that everything we know about young people is that that cohort doesn’t care about sexual orientation,” he said. “If you want to understand these decisions, you have to understand the Boy Scouts is first and primarily a business. It has been all along.”