The Boy Scouts of America, a venerable organization that is dedicated to building character and instilling values in its young members, has turned its back on an important value: equality.
Last week, the 112-year-old group, which claims more than 2 million members and 1 million volunteers, emphatically reiterated its policy of excluding gays after a confidential two-year review. The study was undertaken by an 11-member committee of Scout executives and volunteers who were appointed in 2010 by top Scout leaders.
A spokesman for the organization said the committee members, whose names have not been released, unanimously "came to the conclusion that this policy is absolutely the best policy for the Boy Scouts." That's hard to understand, given American society's growing acceptance of diversity and the nation's expanding code of laws against discrimination.
In 2000, the U.S. Supreme Court upheld the Boy Scouts' First Amendment right, as a private organization, to exclude homosexuals from membership and leadership. Yet it is astonishing that a dozen years later, the group that widely professes a commitment to helping others has decided to cling to such an archaic view.
Admitting gays, to enable them to participate in activities that will make them more civic-minded and self-reliant, would be no more at odds with scouting's principles than enrolling boys who are black, Jewish, or Catholic in a pack or troop.
Robert Mazzuca, the Scouts' chief executive, defended the policy to keep out gays: "The vast majority of the parents of youth we serve value their right to address issues of same-sex orientation within their family, with spiritual advisers, and at the appropriate time and in the right setting." It sounds so 1950s.
It will become harder for Americans to appreciate scouting's good works without seeing this giant, dark asterisk. This is a nation in which gays work in business, teach in schools, preach in some churches, and now serve openly in the military.
Do the Boy Scouts really want to be the last defender of an ugly bias that the rest of America has moved past?