The Boy Scouts of America, one of the largest youth organizations in the country, has been a symbol of the United States for over a century. Several of our presidents have been part of the organization and every president in the 20th and 21th centuries has supported the organization and the values that it embodies – it is no doubt ingrained in American culture.
However, over the past decade, the issue of allowing homosexuals into the large organization has been widely debated. Until recently, the Boy Scouts of America has taken a rigid anti-gay membership stance, citing their core beliefs as an organization. Indeed, as a private organization, the Boy Scouts are entitled to set their own membership standards through their first amendment right to freedom of association. The Supreme Court affirmed this right of association in the controversial 5-4 decision in Boy Scouts of America v. Dale (2000).
While the ruling still stands, I am completely in support of allowing homosexuals to join the Boy Scouts. The majority of the court ruled that allowing Boy Scouts into the organization qualified as an “expressive association.” In other words, allowing gays to join would significantly change the meaning and purpose of the organization. However, if gays are allowed into the organization and abide by the Scout guidelines to not discuss “sexual issues” then the organization’s main purpose will still be fulfilled. Even though many of the scout guidelines may be archaic in terms of their lack of tolerance towards homosexuals, these guidelines can be clearly reconciled with admitting gay members into the BSA.
I agree with Justice John Stevens, who wrote a dissenting opinion for the case, in that the Boy Scouts are dedicated to instilling values in their scouts, yet homosexuality has absolutely nothing to do with morality. In addition, allowing gays to join the scouts increases community participation and diversity. In Roberts v. United States Jaycees, the Supreme Court held that the Jaycees, a large all-male organization, should allow females due to a compelling state interest to increase diversity through all levels of society. In this case, the compelling state interest superseded the right to freedom of association. A similar ruling was issued in Rotary International v Rotary Club of Duarte, which held that women could be admitted into the large Rotary International organization. Both of these cases are similar to Boy Scouts of America v. Dale in that a past marginalized group pushed for membership in a large organization. While the Supreme Court had generally kept its distance from directing private organizations, larger organizations have been and should be viewed with a higher level of scrutiny compared to smaller organizations.
Other large organizations throughout the nation have recognized that opening its doors to gays increases their membership pool and promotes tolerance among people with different sexual orientations. Most notably, the Girl Scouts of America, has always been progressive in terms of allowing the LGBT community into their troops. In 1991, they stated that :
“As a private organization, Girl Scouts of the U.S.A. respects the values and beliefs of each of its members and does not intrude into personal matters. Therefore, there are no membership policies on sexual preference.”
In addition, President Obama, thee honorary president of the organization, today announced that he believes that the Boy Scouts should allow gays into their troops as well. With more and more people in the country supporting gay rights and issues such as marriage equality, I hope that the BSA will soon realize that tying a knot shouldn’t depend on if the rope is black, white, or rainbow.