Alex, a 19-year-old gay Wisconsin Eagle Scout and scoutmaster who didn’t want his last name used to protect his privacy, was in a room full of gay advocates in Texas when the vote was announced. He said he watched the faces of gay adult leaders he knew had been kicked out of the organization to see how they reacted.
“Surprisingly, every single one of them was crying tears of joy. We all know and believe this shows — they are going to get there. They will have that equality,” he said.
But others strongly criticized the message the split policy would send to gay youths.“This is not progressive at all. It will continue to teach the 2.7 million youth members the same toxic message: being gay means you cannot fully participate in the Scouting experience because there is something intrinsically wrong with who you are,” James Dale, whose expulsion as a scoutmaster in 1990 led to the Supreme Court case, wrote this week in The Washington Post.
Polls before the vote showed that large swaths of Scouting families, particularly in the South and the Midwest, wanted to keep the total ban. Some religious conservatives — 70 percent of the troops are chartered by a faith-based group such as a church or mosque — said they couldn’t reconcile their beliefs with the resolution approved Thursday, which says the Scouts as an organization does not have a position on the subject of sexual orientation.
Rob Schwarzwalder, who is active in Northern Virginia Scouting with his twin 15-year-olds, said he opposed any change in the policy and was likely to keep his sons in for a few months to make Eagle Scout and then leave.
“I don’t want my sons to leave my home [when they grow up] thinking, ‘Dad was pretty principled except when it mattered,’ ” he said.
The largest sponsor of Scout troops is the Mormon Church, with about 430,000 of the 2.6 million youth in Scouting. Church officials in April said they supported the proposal, calling it a “good-faith effort” and noting that it calls all sexual conduct by Scouting-age youth “contrary to the virtues of Scouting.”
The second-largest sponsor of troops is the United Methodist Church. The denomination never took an official position and several leaders were quoted on both sides. The third-largest is the Catholic Church, which this week released a letter saying it was “hopeful” to stay in Scouting if it could choose leaders who “espouse, accept and promote” Catholic teachings. The fourth-largest charter is the Southern Baptist Convention. Spokesman Roger Oldham predicted a slow attrition from the Scouts.
“They will no longer have the kind of presence and clout of influencing the leaders of the present and future generations,” Oldham said.
Other Christian and Jewish groups have long called for a full repeal of the bans. Among them are the Episcopal Church, the United Church of Christ and Reform Judaism.
Some opponents of same-sex relationships said they are hoping to stay in Scouting by keeping the topic of sexuality off-limits. But Mechling said this may be unrealistic.
“This is why ‘don’t ask, don’t tell’ didn’t work. The fact is, sexuality is a topic in the Scouts, in a passive, taken-for-granted way. No one thinks twice about a father mentioning his wife. This leaves the gay guy just sitting there,” he said.
Staff writer Annie Gowen contributed to this report.