Within moments of the announcement that, by a 61% margin, the Boy Scouts of America would be dropping its ban on gay scouts, denominations and faith groups offered their reactions.
The Mormon Church, which is the largest sponsor of Boy Scout troops, issued a statement that the new policy was consistent with the policy of the Mormon Church to welcome and accept all people within the denomination, with limits on participation and leadership.
The Church’s long-established policy for participation in activities is stated in the basic instructional handbook used by lay leaders of the Church: “young men … who agree to abide by Church standards” are “welcomed warmly and encouraged to participate.” This policy applies to Church-sponsored Scout units. 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.
The Mormon Church has been working to create a more welcoming attitude for gay and lesbian people recently. However, there are still limits on relationship recognition and leadership for gay and lesbian people. However, there are more and more Mormons who challenge the church to become more welcoming and inclusive. Mitch Mayne and Kevin Kloosterman are both Mormons in church leadership who advocated for inclusion of gay Scouts, while expressing disappointment that the ban was not lifted for gay Scout leaders.
The National Catholic Committee on Scouting, which administers Scouting programs for the Roman Catholic Church, also issued a statement. The Roman Catholic Church sponsors the second highest number of troops. This statement was more cautious about what the change would mean. The statement said that they will use the time before the January 1 implementation to study what, if any, impact this may have on Roman Catholic sponsored troops.
Since the change in policy will not take effect until January 1, 2014, the National Catholic Committee on Scouting has adequate time to study its effects. The NCCS will determine how it may impact Catholic chartered Scout units and activities. In doing so, we will work within the teachings of our Catholic Faith and with the various local bishops and their diocesan scouting committees.
The statement reiterates that the Roman Catholic hierarchy opposes any relationship outside of a marriage between a man and a woman and makes it clear they do not expect Scouts to participate in sexual activity. To date, no advocate for inclusive Scouting has advocated for any type of sexual activity by Scouts.
The United Church of Christ, one of the largest advocates for policy change within the Scouts, and the sponsor of approximately 1,100 troops, issued a statement saying they were pleased with the decision to allow gay Scouts to be a part of Scouting.
"I am happy with today's vote to welcome more youth to scouting by removing the barrier of sexual orientation," said the Rev. Mike Schuenemeyer, UCC executive for LGBT concerns. "This is an important and significant step, and the United Church of Christ stands ready to be helpful in every way we can to support scouting programs that are inclusive and safe for everyone."
However, the UCC also stated that they recognize how much further the Boy Scouts needed to go before they were fully inclusive.
While it is a move in the right direction, UCC LGBT advocates say the new policy contradicts the BSA's efforts to become more inclusive. Schuenemeyer says maintaining the BSA's exclusion of gay leaders is comparable to a "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" policy and is not a long-term solution.
"While it is welcomed progress, this new policy decision is only a step," Schuenemeyer said. "The onerous policy that discriminates against gay adult leaders remains unchanged. We will continue to work with UCC members and congregations, in collaboration with groups such as Scouts for Equality, to engage with the Boy Scouts of America to change that policy, too."
The Metropolitan Community Church, the country's oldest fully LGBT inclusive denomination, noted the confusion left by allowing gay scouts, but continuing to ban gay leaders. The church recognizes that youth are better off by being included in Scouting troops and activities, but that the ban on adults sends mixed messages to youth who may be gay.
Children are not better off when they are left without strong role models who represent the deepest truest parts of who they are as people of God, a truth sadly reflected in the scores of LGBT youth who suffer greater rates of homelessness and bullying than their non-gay peers.
As people of faith we call on the Boy Scouts of America to remedy the confusion youth will experience because of their new policy, and act to include all youth and adults who seek to participate in Scouting, help other people, and keep themselves mentally awake and on a path of moral integrity.
Rev. Nancy Wilson, Moderator for the Metropolitan Community Church, wrote an op-ed that appeared in the Washington Post today, recognizing that gay Scouts already exist, and that the organization needed to be prepared to welcome and include them.
Rev. Susan Russell, a priest at All Saints Episcopal Church in Pasadena, California, sent out a brief statement that summed up the feelings for today.
The word just in that the Boy Scouts have lifted their ban against gay scouts but will continue to discriminate against gay leaders calls to mind the challenge to "set audacious goals and to celebrate incremental victories." Today’s decision by the Boy Scouts is absolutely an incremental victory to celebrate -- even as we renew our commitment to work toward the audacious goal of ending homophobic based discrimination. Period.
Rev. Russell also wrote an op-ed that appeared in the Washington Post, calling for full inclusion within Scouting.
More faith reactions will be coming in over the next several days, but these reactions demonstrate that the faith support behind equality in Scouting is strong, and will continue to be.
GLAAD, in association with Change.org, Scouts for Equality (SFE), and the Inclusive Scouting Network (ISN), delivered over 1.8 million signatures to the BSA urging them to drop their discriminatory ban on gay members.
For photos, video, resources and more, please visit http://glaad.org/scouts
For a full timeline of events leading up to today's vote, please visithttp://glaad.org/scouts